James, Brother of Jesus, Bother of Mythicists

James, Brother of Jesus, Bother of Mythicists April 28, 2018

It’s time to return once again to the subject of Jesus mythicism, the stance that denies the overwhelming consensus of professional historians and scholars that there most likely was indeed a historical Jesus of Nazareth. Evidence about his brother James (Jacob) is an important factor in historical reasoning on this subject.

Tim O’Neill shared a blog post not that long ago about James, the brother of Jesus, and why he represents really strong evidence for the historicity of Jesus (despite what some may tell you). Here is an excerpt from his blog post:

Even the most determined proponents of the Jesus Myth thesis are forced to admit that this passing reference is difficult to get around. A few try some rather weak gambits to dismiss it, claiming that Paul saw visions (which is true) and so was psychotic and delusional (which does not follow at all) and so can be ignored. Others simply try to claim he was lying about meeting James. Neither of these dodges work, given that Paul is not talking about seeing James in a vision, is not boasting about meeting Jesus’ brother and is actually mentioning it in passing in a way that rather undercuts the argument for his independent authority that he is trying to make. So all but the most boneheaded of Mythicists have to admit that Paul did indeed meet this James.

Click through to read the rest. Tim goes on to note that even Richard Carrier (who has a PhD) begrudgingly decides that this piece of evidence is 2:1 in favor of the historicity of Jesus. What the rest of his Bayesian enterprise seeks to obscure is that that ought to settle the matter. If you know my sibling and they mentioned me, but you have also heard a number of improbable things about me (whether that my parents won the lottery just in time to pay the medical bills after I was born, that I have been interviewed by MTV News and E! Online, or that I have a tenure track position at a university), the latter details should not be evaluated as reasons to doubt my historicity. This sort of probability calculation may be appropriate to figuring out the likelihood that some individual in theory would happen to have my unique combination of characteristics. But once my existence is established, even ludicrous claims that turn out to be false do not make my existence less likely. In essence, Carrier’s approach commits the same blunder that undergraduate students sometimes do before coming to grips with how historians work. Each piece of evidence needs to be evaluated on its own merits. And the fact that some evidence does not confirm something should never be treated as undermining what the positive evidence shows. If surveillance video footage and fingerprints place you at a crime scene, the fact that your fingerprints were not found on the exterior door handle of the building in which the crime occurred, or one particular camera failed to record you, is irrelevant – or should be.

Elsewhere in recent online discussions related to this topic, Pedro Rosario’s blog deserves a look. Also, John Loftus shared (frankly rather shocking) news about a Baptist minister named Calvin Kelly who lost his faith, apparently at least in part because he found Joseph Atwill’s ridiculously implausible views to be so persuasive, that he became an atheist. Jerry Coyne continues to spout denialist views about history despite knowing just how problematic that is in relation to his own field, biology. I was disappointed to see Mike Duncan call the overwhelming consensus of historical scholarship, based on painstaking sifting through the evidence, a “bandwagon argument.” I was also surprised that a recent Beliefnet article about the value of reading Josephus for Christians failed to mention that he refers to “James the brother of Jesus called Christ.” I think that is what the individual had in mind when they referred to the deaths of apostles – a statement that is otherwise incorrect.

Of related interest, there is an article by David Neal Greenwood from 2014, “The alethes logos of Celsus and the historicity of Christ” that I do not believe I’ve mentioned here before. See as well the new TV series Craig Evans will be hosting on an Evangelical TV channel, as well as the debate between Richard Carrier and Jonathan McLatchie, and this debate between Bart Ehrman and Mike Licona regarding the reliability of the Gospels:

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  • John MacDonald

    I think’s too that not all evidence is “weighted” the same, like an “exam” would not be weighted the same as “class participation” in grading a student. The “James, The Brother Of The Lord” passage in Paul needs to be given a tremendous amount of weight, because if true, the Christ Myth Theory is false. For instance, even if it is conceded that the Jesus story is completely invented by recycling Hebrew Scripture passages and Dying/Rising God mythemes, none of this matters in the historicity debate if Paul met Jesus’ brother. To use a Euchre analogy, the James passage in Paul “trumps” all the other mythicist cards on the table. I’m not sure what Carrier means when he invents the idea that the James passage is a 2:1 probability affirmative in favor of historicity. I would say the “force” of the James passage card being played effectively blows all the other mythicist cards off the table.

  • Tim C

    Assuming Paul wasn’t lying, and assuming he wasn’t taking advantage of the ignorance of his readers who might have been 1000 miles away, and assuming this James was the brother of the Christ, the next question becomes which Christ? There are several overlapping accounts which believed JC lived at the time of Jannaeus (Epiphanius, Celsus), and according to Epiphanius, these were the Nazarenes. And according to various heresiologists, some sects (Basilideans, Cerinthians, Carpocratians, Elchesites) believed that it was the Christ spirit was the special thing, not the person. Basilides believed the Spirit bounced to Simon of Cyrene. So was James Simon’s brother? Or Jesus’?

    My personal opinion is that this reference is much weirder than a moderner can intuitively grasp, as the Gospel of Mark indicates (Mk 9:38-40) that there is another, unnamed Spirit encapsulator who is going around casting out demons independently of Jesus and the apostles. So Paul’s “brother” may also be a reference to an otherwise unrelated individual who likewise holds a high status in Jerusalem and received the Spirit.

    • Why do you consider much later sources (which are prone to get dates and details wrong in an era before standardized calendars) to carry more weigt than our earliest sources?

      • Tim C

        The are many indications that Paul:
        1. Was very edited to be more palatable to the emerging orthodoxy
        2. Was the favorite apostle of the so called heretics who believed these things
        3. Handed down secret teachings not explicitly found in his letters (as Clement of Alexandria writes about Theudas)

        Then there the Valentinians, who supposedly had Paul’s secret doctrines, who also espoused these ideas in secret meetings, while espousing quasi “orthodox” ideas in public, which suggests to me that there was deeper mystery in Christianity not immediately available to new congregants. The wide range of beliefs which emerged in a very short timeframe is also a clue to this. The fact that magic was so integral in these sects, coupled with what seems to be an overt attempt among Paul’s adversaries to link him to Atomus described by Josephus (who presumably used magical incantations and potions to attract the Herodian princess Drusilla to procurator Felix), along with various pointers to magical traditions found in the Gospel of Mark, it looks to me like Christianity was a complicated mystery religion that, from the beginning, was shrouded in clever obfuscation. I also don’t know how old the traditions were that the heresiologists were writing about. Irenaeus puts several of the heresies as contemporary with the apostles. I’m also not terribly convinced that Paul was so early…

        • Mark

          “The wide range of beliefs which emerged in a very short timeframe is also a clue to this.”

          It isn’t a short time frame. Valentinianism didn’t flourish til the middle of the 2nd c., a century after Paul’s authentic letters. Paul, from the evidence of the letters, adopted Jesus messianism within a few years of Jesus’ death.

          The references to mysteries and incommunicable things here and there in the authentic letters are not surprising; they are completely consistent with the unrelenting 2nd Temple Pharisaism of his text. He isn’t teaching a ‘complicated mystery religion’ of a Hellenistic or ‘oriental’ sort but a fairly ordinary Palestinian Jewish messianism. It is not far from later rabbinical ideas. One peculiarity is that it brings the general resurrection and the ‘world to come’ forward to the messianic period partly to account for the death / resurrection / arrival of the messianic figure, and it has a special account of this novel identification,

          That Paul (and perhaps others) took this messianic message to gentiles, as gentiles – just as Chabad Schneerson-messianists do today in converting messianic ‘Noahides’ – is not surprising: in the end, the prophets say, all peoples will bury their idols and be subject to the one God etc.etc. Nor is it surprising that when later this auxiliary gentile greeting-corps became an independent self-reproducing social form with a mildly exponential growth rate, it took on some features of ‘mystery’ religions and other rather “un-Jewish” ideas.

          • Tim C

            “It isn’t a short time frame.”
            The Valentinians were not the first group to deviate from extant Paul. A generation earlier, there were the Basilideans, who were likewise adoptionistic and were in all likelihood using a version of the Gospel of Mark; when we look at Mark, it would seem that he had Paul in mind for a number of roles in his drama, not least of which, Simon of Cyrene, the famous cross-bearer plucked out of the field to (according to those “Gnostic” traditions) help Jesus play his trick on the rulers, thus causing the temple veil to tear. What I’m getting at is that there are clear correlations between the canonical Gospels and the heresies described by Irenaeus, et al, which suggest that the Gospels were, among other things, allegory which had pointers into a deeper mystery (Mk 4:10-11).

            “fairly ordinary Palestinian Jewish messianism”
            It seems to me there is much Gnosticism hiding in Paul, which is why there was such an inclination among early Dutch radicals to either reject the entirety of Paul’s letters, or to date them later (I’m thinking of F. C. Baur and Bruno Bauer). It seems to me that we see a clear link between Paul and the adoptionism of Mark – Paul is a slave to Christ (Rom 1:1), he has a thorn (2 Cor 12), he doesn’t know what he is doing (Rom 7:15-20), he’s bearing Christ’s cross (Gal 6:14).

            “un-Jewish” ideas
            Rejecting, or otherwise ignoring the law is a pretty profound obfuscation of Judaism, yes? It seems to me we have the answer to why in Epiphanius’s description of the Nasarenes, who believed that Moses’s writings were corrupted, and that they had the “true” writings. We also have inklings of such a rethinking of Jewish law in Rev 12, particularly Rev 12:17, which is to say that those children of the lady were Nasar – children/keepers of the tree (Wisdom/Sophia). It seems to me that this rejection of Mosaic law was prevalent in Christianity from the very beginning…

          • Mark

            You can put ‘ Basilideans’ a generation before ‘Valentinians’ and you are still a full century after Paul, who surely had his teaching worked out by, say, 40-45 CE.

            Your fantasia on the hidden secrets in Mark is as rational as the average preacher’s riffing. I can’t make any sense of it at all. Wtf does a Shimon from the gigantic Jewish community of Cyrene – epicenter of the Kitos War – have to do with Paul?

            It somehow hasn’t crossed your mind that maybe the word ‘Gnostic’ means nothing at all.

            The so-called Dutch radical interpretation of Paul is basically the extreme outcome of an intrinsically Protestant dialectic. It should be called the “Dutch Hyper-conservative Interpretation”. It rests on the thought that ‘Jewish’=’Rabbinical’ and ‘Rabbinical’=’In accord with standard Lutheran anti-semitic conceptions of the Rabbinical’. The late date assigned to the letters rests on their supposed remoteness from anything in the 2nd T Jewish world.

            All these premises are so much exploded in the last 50 years that it is astonishing that anyone still mentions such people. They predate the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls, the de-anti-semiticization of non-Jewish study of the material, and the critical reconstruction of the origin of the rabbis. Thus e.g. we get a typical ‘Radical’ saying

            “How far from Jewish the character of the Pauline Epistles is appears most clearly from the impression that these writings leave upon Rabbinical scholars of our own time. Thus C. G. Montefiore, although he does not doubt their general authenticity, expresses himself thus: “Either this man had never been a Rabbinical Jew, or else he has completely forgotten what Rabbinical Judaism was and is.””

            The rabbinical school emerged over a century and a half after Paul – well after the Valentinians and Basilieans even! – and did not attain general hold on world Jewry for some further centuries.

            Explain to me how Paul rejects the Law? Where does the law say that it is for gentiles? It says the opposite. It is for a specific nation. Of course there was the possibility of becoming a proselyte, like immigration and naturalization. That Paul’s adepts should undertake such a process totally spoils the whole prophetic scheme Paul is working with, in which the various nations AS THOSE VARIOUS NATIONS bury their idols, are subjected to the awesome rule of the messiah of Israel etc. etc. Paul’s enemies, who thought his adepts should become proselytes, were simply complete morons, just as he says – Galilean bumpkins devoid of proper pharisaical upbringing. The solidity of his thinking on the matter is well exhibited by its reappearance, almost exactly as he states it, in the rabbinical period – though it was theorized by them in terms of a ‘Noahide’ law that doesn’t appear in Paul.

          • Tim C

            “Your fantasia on the hidden secrets in Mark is as rational as the average preacher’s riffing”
            Not at all. Simon of Cyrene is clearly intended to be Paul. The Matthean community recognized this as well, which is why Matthew is so hostile to the events surrounding Simon of Cyrene, including his foreshadowing in Mark 9:35-40. Matthew sanitizes Simon of Cyrene in a number of ways. He removes Simon’s parentage of Alexander and Rufus, he changes the place where Simon was taken from (Mark has Simon coming from the field, which was an allusion to “New Jerusalem”). Matthew says “Many of you will claimed to have cast out demons in my name…I’ll say I never knew you.” Matthew also has Jesus say “He who is not with me is against me,” as opposed to the much less foreboding Mark – “he who is not against us is with us”. Acts’ author knew it too, and he knew that there was a link between Simon’s flipped origins, between Cyrene and Cyprus (see Acts 8:9-23, Acts 11:20, Acts 13:1, Acts 13:6-7, Jos Ant 20.7.2)

            “It somehow hasn’t crossed your mind that maybe the word ‘Gnostic’ means nothing at all.”
            I’m open to the idea that Gnostic isn’t a useful term. I’m referring to a deeper layer in the mystery which integrates something like Christianity with other artifacts found in sects which have traditionally been called Gnostic, such as the alternative creation story which has Sophia’s rebellion, the Logos freeing her, the Demiurge, and related tropes.

            “Explain to me how Paul rejects the Law?”
            Reject may not be the right verb, but he certainly isn’t constrained to adhere to it. He preached a replacement:
            Gal 2:19-21, Gal 3:5, Gal 3:10, Gal 3:13, Gal 3:23-25, Gal 4:3-7, Gal 5:4-6, 1 Cor 9:21, Phillipians 3:7-9

          • “Simon of Cyrene is clearly intended to be Paul.”

            When something is a connection that is visible only to your imagination, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is wrong, but it certainly makes the use of “clearly” inappropriate…

          • Tim C

            I’m not the only one who has noticed this.

          • Tim C

            Simon of Cyrene was the Paraclete – he’s one of the major points of Mark’s Gospel. The Spirit goes into Jesus at the beginning, triggers a tearing of the sky, influences Jesus’s behavior so as to keep Jesus spiritually clean while the Christ does work, then bounces out of Jesus and into Simon of Cyrene so that Jesus the man is executed for crimes he doesn’t commit, thus violating natural law and tearing the temple veil, which completes the pathway to heaven which was started when Jesus was baptized. The whole point of Mark is to demonstrate that Spirit works like this (is encapsulated within a human), and that it survived Jesus’s death, which is central to Paul’s underlying point. It’s also why Apostolic authority was invented in competing sects in the first place, and why it was presumed that Simon Magus attempted to buy the Spirit in Acts 8.

            That’s why the Basilideans believed Simon of Cyrene received the Spirit prior to Jesus’s death on the cross (Ir AH i.24.4). This is not frivolous imagination – it’s common sense. This is what Mark’s consumers believed (AH iii.11.7)

            Thus the link between the Basilideans and Menander (Stromata 7.17), and then to Simon Magus. It’s also why tradition purports that Basilides was the pupil of Glaucias, who was Peter’s interpreter…so was Mark. It’s the same, obfuscated tradition.

            Simon the Sorcerer = Simon of Cyrene = Paul. Acts 8:9-23, Acts 11:20, Acts 13:1, Acts 13:6-7, Jos Ant 20.7.2

          • Mark

            Simon of Cyrene is a complete waste of time.

            ” I’m referring to a deeper layer in the mystery ” has nothing to with ‘gnosticism’. ‘Deeper layers in the mystery’ pervade 2nd T Jewish thinking. Indeed you might as well call the rabbis gnostics.

            In your Galations citations, it is funny you skip 5:3, which says that *anyone who gets circumcised must obey the whole law.* Which is to say: he accepts its validity 100%. He has nothing against proselytes and circumcision, in the abstract, he’s a good Pharisee. It also entails that he, Paul, circumcised on the eighth day, must obey the whole law. Do you know that he didn’t arrive in town with dangling tzitzit? It is quite possible that he has a special account of what the law requires in his peculiar circumstances, and in the social nexus of messianic Jews and gentiles, and in the planetary circumstances where reality is melting into the period of general resurrection; there have been many views about this in the later rabbinical tradition and he presumably has his own. But these theorems for him will, as usual, be derived from the law and the prophets. There is no reason to think he thinks anything about any of this that he didn’t already believe as a pharisaical student. He just thinks he’s found his messiah and, *with him*, the transition period to the general resurrection and the world to come, עולם הבא. Everything else he already knew, or might as well have – i.e. what to do in such circumstances.

            But, though he has nothing against proselytes and circumcision, in the abstract, HIS people are to have nothing to do with this stuff. His preaching has a specific character, he is bringing ‘the nations’ around to the true God and subjection to the anointed of Israel – as ‘nations’, as not-Jews. This means his ex-pagans must stay gentiles. Everything is spoiled if they turn into Jews on him. They break the specific link to Christ that is coming through his preaching and apostolate. The parousia depends on the full complement of such gentiles-not-as-Jews coming in.

            The law passages you cite that don’t make the rookie error of not noticing he is //talking to Gentiles//, in particular //his own special apocalyptic gentiles//, are remarks on the character of law in general that apply not just to the specifically Mosaic law, but equally e.g. to the (unmentioned) Noahide law. Sc. that neither mere obedience to it, nor even mere obedience to it for its own sake, cannot bring one dikaiosune, righteousness. Only grace, Christ, faith, inwardness etc. can. Aristotle says practically the same thing, but without the grace, Christ, faith bit. (Nicomachean Ethics V on the legally/generally just) It’s common sense really. Maybe try Paula Fredriksen Paul the Pagans Apostle or any other modern work on Paul. Your whole Lutheran reading is dead.

          • Bob Jase

            You know what is a short time frame? The supposed time between Jesus’ supposed death and the supposed writings of Paul. And yet those writings attributed to Paul already speak of various factions and teachers nad even other Christs. Dissention obviously pre-dates ‘Paul’ whoever & whenever he supposedly existed.

          • How is any of that relevant to the question of Jesus’ historicity?

    • John MacDonald

      Hi Tim. Tim says:

      Assuming Paul wasn’t lying

      Carrier echos a similar sentiment when he says:

      Thus modern Christianity (being no longer “kosher,” i.e. observantly Jewish) is not based on the teachings of a historical Jesus, even if there was a historical Jesus. It is based on the pious dreams or hallucinations of Paul (or Paul’s lies thereof). see https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/13812

      I think Paul’s testimony is questionable because he is constantly protesting that he isn’t lying (consider Shakespear’s methinks he doth protest too much – see Galatians 1:20; Romans 9:1; 2 Corinthians 1:23; 2 Corinthians 11:31). And, at other times, he seems to brag about his ability to be deceptive, like Odysseus. These are apparently fluid categories for Paul. Consider when he writes:

      If through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? (Romans 3:7)

      We can assume, for instance, that the authors of the Christian forged writing probably believed God wanted them to lie (see 1 Kings 22:21-22). Paul was quite clear that he was “something like” an accomplished liar, or at least a good chameleon, modifying his message about Jesus to cast Jesus in the most “sellable” light possible, depending on whether Paul was presenting the message to Jews, or to Gentiles (1 Cor 9:20-21).

      Consider also when Paul brags:

      “But be it so, I did not myself burden you; but, being crafty, I caught you with trickery.” (2 Corinthians 12:16).

      The noble lie theory of Christian origins “speculates” the original Christians may have invented the story of the risen Jesus appearing to them (as per the pre-Pauline Corinthian creed), to carry on and lend divine clout to Jesus’ message of love of widow, orphan, alien, and enemy, a cause the have been willing to die for. My research into this question has convinced me there is absolutely NO reason to think the Noble Lie model is probable, just that it is “possible” speculation about what gave birth to Christianity. For more of this analysis on Paul and Noble Lies, see section “C” of my blog post here: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.ca/2018/03/examining-easter-peering-behind-veil-of.html

      • Mark

        The use you are making of “If through my falsehood God’s truthfulness abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? (Romans 3:7)” is amazingly dishonest.

        • John MacDonald

          I was making a joke. Paul’s next sentence says: “Why not say, as some slanderously claim that we say, “Let us do evil that good may result?” Their condemnation is deserved!…”

          • Mark

            Maybe I’m not following.

          • John MacDonald

            Pseudocists (people who argue that the origins of Christianity may be based on noble lies about experiencing the resurrected Jesus) suggest Paul’s obsessive protestations that he is telling the truth/not lying may ironically be indication of deceit (as per Shakespeare’s “Methinks she doth protest too much”). I have investigated this theory (the noble lie theory of Christian origins) thoroughly, and am convinced it is no more than fanciful speculation. It “might” be true, but there is really no reason to think so.

          • Do you have a reference for the term “pseudocist”.

            I’ve never heard of this following of people called “pseudocists” who argue that the origins of Christianity are based on the “noble lies” of Paul. I’ve only heard you propound the theory.

          • John MacDonald

            As I said above, I don’t think there is any reason to support the Noble Lie theory (although, if true, it would probably predate Paul with whoever is responsible for the pre-Pauline Corinthian Creed). Carrier is sympathetic to the theory, as is Covington, and Lataster, and others. Carrier, for instance, writes:

            “Of course, a case can be made for the apostles dying even for a hoax: all they needed was to believe that the teachings attached to their fabricated claim would make the world a better place, and that making the world a better place was worth dying for. Even godless Marxists voluntarily died by the millions for such a motive. So the notion that no one would, is simply false.” see http://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/12263

            I think the noble lie theory is more likely if one interprets Paul to have an atonement understanding of the death/resurrection of Jesus that nullified the need for the corrupt, Roman loving temple cult. But I and the people I mentioned would probably agree the more likely explanation is the religion began with dreams and visions/hallucinations, like most other cults/religious systems. Pseudocism is an alternative for secular people who are not satisfied with the other secular explanation that Cephas and the boys were all hallucinating. Maybe they (Cephas and the boys) were sympathetic to the implications of 1 Kings 22:21-22?

            “Pseudo-cist” / “Pseudo-ist” would just be someone sympathetic to the Noble Lie theory of Christian origins (Pseudo = Lie).

          • As I suspected … you just made up the term pseudocist.

            As far as I can tell, few skeptics have given the lie-as-origin-of-christianity much more than a passing glance. You, on the other hand, seem strangely committed to this strawman. You just keep propping it up and knocking it down, propping it up and knocking it down.

          • John MacDonald

            Well, I was talking about it, so I had to make up some sort of label. Do you have a better name than pseudocist, lol? I first heard of the theory from Carrier many years ago.

          • So now it’s an entire theory? Carrier gives passing consideration to the idea that Paul might have told a few lies. He gives no theoretical weight to it.

            A better name than pseudocist? How about “John McDonald” – since that’s the only person who actually markets the idea with any degree of seriousness. And just so that he can knock it down.

          • John MacDonald

            What put you in such a bad mood? I have said repeatedly my position is that the most reasonable position to take is that Christian origins are best understood as beginning with visions or hallucinations of Jesus by Cephas and his friends. The Noble Lie theory is a possible alternative. So is space aliens beaming up Jesus’ corpse and projecting down holograms. Any crazy, creative explanation is possible, but the probable, reasonable choice is there were visions. Take a chill pill, man – lol.

          • I’m actually in a good mood tonight – I wonder why you would think otherwise. I’m just making it very clear that there is no band of skeptical “pseudocists” selling a
            “Noble Lie” theory of Christian origins. There’s only you and your “Palpatine’s Way” web page meanderings.

            In writing to Mark above, you indicated that you had “investigated” the “noble lie theory of Christian origins” and found it to be “no more than fanciful speculation”.

            What you didn’t tell Mark is that “pseudocism” and the “noble lie theory of Christian origins” is really just an invention of your own fanciful speculation.

          • John MacDonald

            I mentioned you seem to be in a bad mood because you seem to be out looking for a disagreement, lol. In any case, as I said, I learned of the idea from Carrier, so it hardly comes from me. I found the possibility interesting, so I tried to investigate what it entails. As for the idea, Carrier mentions it in OHJ, and Lataster mentions in in JDNE, for instance. I’m just curious, what are you trying to get at with this line of questioning – or are you just being contrary, lol?

          • Nope, not being contrary at all. Carrier and Lataster vaguely mention ideas about the possibility of “lies” in Christian origins; it’s barely a side-note for them – never rises to the level of hypothesis, much less theory. You’re the only one who has developed a “noble lie theory of Christian origins”, such as it is.

            This is not the first time you have discussed the “noble lie theory of Christian origins” in posts, without ever mentioning that there is no such “theory” except a rather convoluted straw man of your own invention.

            I just think that’s useful to point out, lest anyone think you’re talking about an actual theory that actual skeptics actually argue about.

          • John MacDonald

            Anyway -lol

          • Sure … lol

          • John MacDonald

            It might be interesting for you to actually ask Carrier (you could find him on Twitter, for instance) what he thinks of The Noble Lie Theory of Christian origins that I developed. And the fact that I don’t support the Noble Lie Theory of Christian origins doesn’t mean it wasn’t fruitful developing the theory. After all, you don’t have to be a Platonist to expound Plato. Since I highly doubt you own Carrier’s OHJ or Lataster’s JDNE, you seem to be the one guilty of speculating here. Go ahead – ask Carrier what he thinks of my website …

          • Why would I find that interesting? I have no interest whatsoever in your “Noble Lie Theory of Christian origins”. Why should I bother? Why don’t YOU ask Carrier what he thinks of your “Noble Lie Theory of Christian origins”?

            Nope, I don’t own OHJ or JDNE; never claimed to – I’ve honestly only browsed copies and read segments. I just know that if they actually espoused such a theory, it would be easily searchable and you would have long since quoted them on it extensively.

            Honestly, John, why would ANYONE be interested in a theory that NOONE espouses?

          • John MacDonald

            Your logic fails you.

            First you said:
            (1a) “Carrier and Lataster vaguely mention ideas about the possibility of “lies” in Christian origins; it’s barely a side-note for them”

            But now you say:
            (1b) I don’t own OHJ or JDNE

            You claim
            (2a) “Carrier gives passing consideration to the idea that Paul might have told a few lies. He gives no theoretical weight to it.”

            But since you’ve never read OHJ, and don’t know Carrier’s take on my theory, when prompted to simply ask him what he thinks you write:
            (2b) “Why would I find that interesting? I have no interest whatsoever in your ‘Noble Lie Theory of Christian origins’. Why should I bother? Why don’t YOU ask Carrier what he thinks of your ‘Noble Lie Theory of Christian origins’?

            I already know what Carrier thinks of my theory because I asked him a while ago.

            As I said, you’re just trying to be contrary. In fact, you’re more concerned with being contrary than being logically consistent. I’ll bow out and let you have the last word, since that seems to be the only thing you’re concerned with here.

          • As usual, you have no grasp of logic.

            1a and 1b do not contradict each other; it is not necessary to own, or even to have completely read those texts to know enough about them for the purposes of those statements. Neither do 2a and 2b for the same reason. The theories of such scholars are easily searchable. More to the point, can you show that it is more than a side-note in those texts? You are clearly avoiding the more obvious question. Far easier to prove a positive than a negative – you should have all the evidence in your hands.

            In fact, the really odd thing here is that you seem only concerned with the “logic” of my ability to make statements, when you should be able to clear up the whole matter by simply pulling out your copies of OHJ and JDNE, and quoting their extensive support and theoretical framework for the “noble lie theory of Christian origins”. Seems like you should have done that several comments ago.

            … and you know what Carrier thinks because you asked him … can you say anything less substantive on the matter than that you “know what Carrier thinks”? DO point us to the twitter feed, or the online discussion, or the email exchange, so that we can partake of Carrier’s extensive pronouncement on the viability of your “noble lie theory of Christian origins”.

            Bowing out? Without even volunteering your knowledge of the requisite texts, or giving us Carrier’s exhaustive critique.

            One would almost be tempted to think that you have … nothing.

            Again, I am not concerned with being contrary here. I am only pointing out the fact that the “noble lie theory of christian origins” is nothing but a straw man of your own creation.

          • John MacDonald

            Hey Beau,

            “Even if this man (Dionysus) is no God, as you think, still say that he is. Be guilty of a splendid fraud, declaring him to be the son of Semele. For this will make it seem she is the mother of a God, and will confer honor on all or race (Cadmus speaking, in Euripides’ “Bacchae”)

            (1) It baffles me that you want to pretend to speak for Carrier even though you have never read any of his books, don’t follow him on Twitter, etc …! You want a reference from Carrier about my “Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins?” Here, for instance, is what Carrier says about my “Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins (Yes, contra your thoughts,he calls it a “theory”)” in his February 22 post on his Twitter feed:

            “This is a well researched case for the Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins. I mentioned the theory in On the Historicity of Jesus (in my section on the hallucination theory of origins), but only in passing as a possibility & not anything we could prove or assume. Now see John MacDonald’s …”

            Look up Carrier’s comments yourself: https://twitter.com/RichardCCarrier/status/966713694167228416


            “Schizoanalysis always implies a certain amount of arguing against oneself” – Gilles Deleuze

            You seem to think a lie is particularly hard to pull off (You’ve presumably never heard of Santa Clause, lol). It’s always an interesting question as to being able to tell whether someone is lying or not. Earlier, I lied and said that from a secular point of view the Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins is inherently less likely than the Hallucination theory (regarding what actually rests behind the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed). In truth, both the hallucination theory and the lie theory are merely possible, with no reason to choose one over the other. Or maybe Cephas et al actually encountered the risen Jesus, who knows? Anyone who thinks the hallucination theory is “more probable” simple betrays a lack of understanding of how prevalent the idea of social architecture through religion was prevalent in antiquity. I also lied about first hearing about the Noble Lie Theory from Richard Carrier. That was false. Both of us arrived at this theory quite independently.

            So, on my blog, I am publishing my last “rethinking” of the Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins, this time considering the peculiar case of Dr. Robert M. Price. Check it out: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.ca/2018/03/examining-easter-peering-behind-veil-of.html

            It is perhaps one of the unfortunate judgments of history that someone like Robert M. Price, who had the determination and ability to attain two PhDs in Religious Studies (Systematic Theology and New Testament), will be remembered in Religious Studies as something of a pariah who attached his wagon to the doomed Christ Myth Theory, and ended his career unable to attain a teaching position

            There is, however, a strain in Price’s analysis that doesn’t have to do with mythicism, but rather another type of rethinking of the Gospels. He tries to argue that the Swoon (Scheintod – Seeming Death) Theory, among other things, may have been hinted at in the earlier stages of the Gospel development, even thought it was subsequently redacted out. Carrier thinks Price is particularly fascinating on this point. This has interesting implications for my Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins.


          • Why should I have to speak for Carrier, when he speaks perfectly well for himself:

            “I mentioned the theory in On the Historicity of Jesus (in my section on the hallucination theory of origins), but ONLY IN PASSING AS A POSSIBILITY AND NOT ANYTHING WE COULD PROVE OR ASSUME.”

            I already knew that you were a liar from previous posts, which is why I seldom bother to interact with you.

            My only point (no matter what lies you continue to tell about me), is that you are the only proponent of a “noble lie theory of Christian origins”.

            This (obviously) is not to say that there are no lies in Biblical literature; the forged letters of Paul alone demonstrate that. But Paul’s “creed” in 1 Corinthians 15, need not be based on anything more supernatural than the sort of ecstatic charismatic emotion-fests that happen down the street at the Pentacostal Church every Sunday.

          • John MacDonald

            Previously you wrote:

            “So now it’s an entire theory? Carrier gives passing consideration to the idea that Paul might have told a few lies. He gives no theoretical weight to it.”

            Even if the theory was unique to me (which it isn’t – Carrier called my interpretation a well researched extension of a theory he himself points to in OHJ and elsewhere, and shared it with his followers on Twitter), why am I not allowed to create a theory of my own?

            And anyway, this is all beside the point. Your dogmatic assertion is that (i) the most probable explanation for the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed is hallucinations. I say (ii) that could be right, or it may be lies, or they actually may have encountered the risen Jesus.

            Go ahead and defend your interpretation if you can – or else stop wasting time with peripheral issues.

          • You’re allowed to create any “theory” you like, and push for all the retweets you like.

            Sounds like Carrier backs up exactly what I said about him:

            “I mentioned the theory in On the Historicity of Jesus (in my section on the hallucination theory of origins), but ONLY IN PASSING AS A POSSIBILITY AND NOT ANYTHING WE COULD PROVE OR ASSUME.”

            I’ll use my time anyway I like; but I tend not to use it constantly pushing for attention (and pretending to followers) to theories of my own invention. Especially strawman theories that I only intend to knock-down if I can ever get them established in the first place.

          • John MacDonald

            If you read the full tweet from Carrier, is not the sense that my theory was presented in such a way that the Noble Lie theory now has more weight for Carrier in a court of law.? Your hermeneutics are severely lacking. Carrier is saying he understood the weight of the theory in one way when he put it in OHJ, but now he is pointing readers to my study. Hence Carrier writes “Now see …”

          • ooooh Carrier retweeted you! Do you feel warm inside?

            But did he reference you in OHJ? No.

          • John MacDonald

            How could he have referenced me in OHJ? He encountered my model 4 years after he wrote OHJ. So now you’ve gone from saying Carrier gives no weight to the theory, to poking fun at the fact that he liked it. If anyone is reading this, what Beau is doing is diverting attention from the fact that he has no arguments in support of his claim that it it most likely that the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed is based on hallucinations. The audience is waiting breathlessly for your support for your claim, Beau, lol.

          • Lying again? I doubt anyone is paying attention.

          • John MacDonald

            Lying about what?

          • See the other comment thread.

          • John MacDonald

            Beau said”

            Paul’s “creed” in 1 Corinthians 15, need not be based on anything more supernatural than the sort of ecstatic charismatic emotion-fests that happen down the street at the Pentacostal Church every Sunday.

            – “need not” is correct. We are perfectly capable of explaining the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed as naturalistic ecstatic visions. But it is also true we need not appeal to anything beyond simple lies. Similarly, we need not appeal to anything beyond the actual experience of the risen Jesus. One is just as likely as the other two.

          • O God, you’re not going to start the stupid habit of replying multiple times to the same comment are you?

            And, no, sorry John, but a magical resurrection of a dead man is not as likely as naturalistic explanations.

          • John MacDonald

            Beau said:

            “And, no, sorry John, but a magical resurrection of a dead man is not as likely naturalistic explanations.”

            Correct, I was lying about that. It is no more likely a scenario that Jesus magically rose from the dead than that invisible fairies are responsible for gravity.

            Now, we have two explanations for the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed – Naturalistic ecstatic visions, and lies. I think either are equally probable, you say the vision route is the way to go. Why is your theory preferable to mine?

          • You want to know what a real waste of time is, John? Talking to liars.

          • John MacDonald

            It’s kind of like talking to someone who trashes my theory without ever having fully read it through and pretends it makes a difference whether Carrier likes the theory or not (even though Carrier does), and telling people to take it on “faith” that the “hallucination theory” is more probable than the “lie theory,” even though no evidence is offered in support of this dogmatic contention. The “lie theory” is just as likely as the “hallucination theory.” Deal with it, lol.

          • It’s kind of like talking to an admitted liar, who makes up strawman theories with made-up followers.

          • John MacDonald

            This is pointless. You refuse to provide an argument for your dogmatic assertion that the Hallucination theory is more probable than the Noble Lie theory. I don’t see any purpose in continuing this discussion.

          • Nope. I never once proposed a “Hallucination theory” (that’s your lie – or one of them). I frankly find it pointless to try to condense the origins of a religion into a theory of a single event. Almost as pointless as supposing that blog comments are good platforms for proposing theories.

          • John MacDonald

            You certainly did propose a hallucination theory:

            (1) You denied the probability of the claim that the disciples actually saw the risen Jesus. You wrote:

            a magical resurrection of a dead man is not as likely as naturalistic explanations.

            (2) Then, regarding the origins of the reported visions in the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed, you wrote:

            Paul’s “creed” in 1 Corinthians 15, need not be based on anything more supernatural than the sort of ecstatic charismatic emotion-fests that happen down the street at the Pentacostal Church every Sunday.

            – You are a curious fellow. You contradict yourself all over the place, such as making pronouncements about what Carrier and Latatser say even though you’ve never read their books. You challenged me to produce evidence Carrier looks favorably upon what I wrote (claiming Carrier gives no theoretical weight to the Noble Lie theory), and when I produced a tweet from Carrier stating he thinks I have produced a well researched “Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins” (that he shared with his Twitter readers), you make fun of me for pointing out Carrier retweeted my sharing of my theory with him. You dogmatically assert the hallucination theory is more likely than the Noble Lie theory, but offer no evidence in support of this.

            The only thing I am claiming is that while there were visions in the early church, that doesn’t mean the founders had them just because they said so. It seems me that noble lies are just as reasonable explanations as hallucinations for the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed, as per 1 Kings 22:21-22.

          • Do you know the definition of a theory? Because my statement about Paul’s creed is an observation – not a theory.

            1) I’m sure that everyone else who believes in the high probability of magical resurrections will agree with you.

            2) Yep, I made a sensible observation about a verse – not an exhaustive theory about Christian origins.

            I don’t contradict myself. I contradict the lies you tell about me. Such as the lie that I “challenged you to produce evidence Carrier looks favorably upon what [you] wrote”. That is a lie. Plain and simple. You know what I actually challenged you to do (and if you’ve forgotten, you can read back and remind yourself); and you have yet to meet that challenge. Because the hilarious thing is that when you actually did produce a retweet from Carrier, it proved my point not yours – that Carrier only gave passing notice to the “noble lie” in his book.

          • John MacDonald

            Fine, your “observation” was that in the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed Cephas and the twelve reported hallucinations/visions of Jesus. I agree. What is in question is whether Cephas and the Twelve were actually experiencing such hallucinations, or whether they are lying about it? You have not supplied one iota of evidence to back up your dogmatic assertion that it is “probable” that they were actually hallucinating.

            Regarding what Carrier said about my theory – Carrier said in his Tweet that:

            “This is a well researched case for the Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins.”

            Carrier said he only mentioned it in passing in OHJ, but suggested to his readers to now see my treatment (if you were familiar with Carrier, you would know he likes to make such referrals when someone has covered something he does not – like I said, go ahead and ask him):

            “Now see John MacDonald’s …”

            Carrier seems to be in support of my claims, but that really doesn’t matter. I am making the soft claim that either the hallucination or the Lie theory is possible. You are making the hard claim trying to marshal evidence that makes it “probable” that the hallucination theory is right. Once again, you have still made no argument in support of your “hallucination” probability contention. Please state your evidence.

          • What?! So now you agree with my “observation”, after boorishly demanding evidence for it when you falsely called it my “theory”. And you call me inconsistent.

            There are all sorts of questions you could ask of 1 Corinthians 15. Whether an “appearance” constitutes a “vision” or a “hallucination” or an ecstatic “presence” or something else altogether. Whether Paul heard about it himself or second hand and if so, whether he is describing the experience in the same way anyone else might have described it. You haven’t even determined whether Paul got his “appearance” idea from Cephas or from some other source. You can even find arguments that the entire passage (or section of it) is an interpolation not belonging to Paul:



            So far from being able to make this a simple lie-vs-hallucination argument, you haven’t even scratched the surface of possibilities for this passage’s origin. if we take this passage as Paul’s, and Paul’s words are the only words we have access to, consider this. There is only one “appearance” which Paul experienced himself – so how would you characterize Paul’s “appearance”? A hallucination? A vision?

            I don’t really care whether Carrier tweet-likes your web page or not, and that was never my argument in the first place – as you know. But I’m not surprised; strawmen are your mainstay. And you’re never above lying about what other people have argued.

          • John MacDonald

            Wow! You’re impossible to have a conversation with because you don’t understand anything that’s being written to you. I’ll try one last time, and that’s it for me.

            Ehrman points out that Paul quotes a piece of a creed or poetry that was handed down to him that says:

            “That Christ died for our sins
            in accordance with the scriptures.
            and that he was buried;

            That he was raised on the third day
            in accordance with the scriptures,
            and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

            The first line of each part states the important salvific fact: Christ died, Christ was raised. The second line of each indicates that he did so in fulfillment of the (Jewish) Scriptures. And the third line of each provides the tangible proof of the statement (his death is proven by his burial; his resurrection is proven by his appearances). This is a very carefully and intentionally crafted statement that Paul inherited.

            Anyway, Cephas et al were claiming here that they saw what they believed was the risen Christ. Maybe they were hallucinating. Maybe they were lying. Or, maybe they actually encountered the Risen Christ (there is no evidence that miracles don’t/can’t happen). We don’t know.

            Anyway, that’s the best I can explain it to you. You’ve really turned me off blogging here because you seem incapable of understanding what is being explained to you, and you keep contradicting yourself. Just in your last post you switched from saying Carrier sees no weight in my interpretation to saying you don’t care if Carrier likes it. I’ve wasted enough time on this blog trying to explain very simple concepts to you.
            Oh well, on to other non bible stuff.

          • Wow! You’re impossible to have a conversation with because you state the obvious, present nonfacts as facts, and intermittently lie (something you have admitted on other posts as well).

            We don’t know what Cephas said or did. All we know is what Paul WRITES he said or did, and we don’t even know if Paul got this creed first hand, second hand, third hand … you point out yourself that Ehrman sees this as a “creed” or “poetry” that was “handed down” to Paul. How do we know it reflects what actually happened to Cephas, if we don’t even know where Paul got the story in the first place?

            Do you not understand the difference between what an ancient figure actually says, and what is only reported that he says?

            Do you not understand that even if this second hand report were not just true, but experienced as described, experiences other than “hallucinations” might be interpreted as “appearances” – that these are, in fact, vague terms?

            So maybe Cephas and others weren’t lying or hallucinating. Maybe they experienced a “presence”. Maybe they “felt” that Jesus was with them. And this vague ecstatic experience was reported by others as an “appearance”. Or maybe what Cephas experienced was misunderstood by others. Or maybe others lied about Cephas (not Paul or Cephas himself). So many possibilities – and yet you can only imagine three: Cephas hallucinated, Cephas lied, Cephas saw magic – and we don’t even have an actual report in Cephas’s own words at all.

            Any way that’s the best I can explain it to you. You haven’t turned me off blogging, because I know that most commenters refrain from telling lies, making up followers (pseudocists) of their own strawman theories, and being extremely obtuse.

            And, again, you end with a lie.You claim that I said “Carrier sees no weight in your interpretation”, when you know that is completely false. I said that Carrier gave only passing notice to the idea that Paul tell lies in the text of OHJ. After which you launched into a tirade about whether I had read said text, completely ignoring the fact that Carrier confirmed what I said in a text to you!

            I’ve wasted enough time with you and your lies.

          • John MacDonald

            In fact, I’m tired of trying to beg something that resembles a well grounded argument out of your forest of dogmatism. My contention is that the hallucination hypothesis and the noble lie hypothesis are equally probable, and so there is no reason to favor one over the other. Those are my thoughts. This conversation is over.

          • I am tired of answering your false assertions about what I say. Go lie to someone else for a while.

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            Carrier accepts as authentic all 6 (or is 7? Or for Carrier maybe 6.33560932??) “authentic” pauline epistles. An odd position for a mythicist.

          • I don’t think that’s unusual for most current mythicists. Carrier’s position is not that all Paul’s letters were forged, but rather that Paul himself viewed the Christ figure as a heavenly being rather than an earthly being. I find what mythicists like Carrier believe to be much more bizarre and far-fetched than the simple solution that Paul is talking about an actual human.

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            The critical phrase here is “mythicists like Carrier”: most of the ‘mythicists’, past & present, I’m familiar with are not like Carrier at all, and much of what he proposes is indeed bizarre.

            The prevailing opinion among mythicists is that the first 10 Pauline epistles are 2nd Century products of the marcionites and deal largely with contemporary schisms — which nevertheless likely contain some original words of the man known as ‘Paul.’

            Given that Paul’s Christ Jesu supposedly appeared to him in a vision, and that the epistles lack any description of Jesus’ time on Earth other than a vague reference to him having been crucified at some unspecified time & place, I find your solution, that Paul had in mind an actual human being, to be the far-fetched one.

          • The apocalyptic framework of what he says about this individual – that he was crucified, raised in an event that inaugurates the resurrection of the dead that will precede the final judgment, and that he is the awaited Davidic anointed one, all make it far fetched in the extreme to push the crucifixion off into the distant past. But even doing that would not make mythicism more likely than that he is referring to someone who actually existed in history, and who could thus have been thought to be descended from David (whether or not he actually was), crucified, and buried, and thought to have participated in what Pharisaic Jews believed would happen to all human beings (but no other beings).

          • John MacDonald

            In 1 Cor 15:23 Paul says the crucified/resurrected Christ was the “First fruits” of the general resurrection of souls at the end of the age, which must mean the crucifixion/resurrection was close to Paul’s time and that he believed the end was imminent.

          • You may be right; I’m familiar with Carrier and those in his circle. I’ve overlooked your version of mythicism.

            It’s all a bit academic if you don’t consider many of Paul’s letters as original, but there are references to him administering communion with bread and cup as well.

          • Mark

            Mythicism has basically always boiled down to a reading of Paul’s authentic letters.

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            Oh, there’s much more to it than that. And the prevailing understanding of which epistles were authentic had already over a century ago dwindled from 7 to 4 to 0. Why Carrier bucks this consensus I do not know.

          • Mark

            The judgment that the seven ‘undisputed’ letters are authentic has been rock solid for over a century. It is a result of an extraordinary philological exertion of skeptical scholarship starting with Baur’s restriction to four and the //subsequent// addition of Philemon, Philippians and first Thessalonians. How far any of them is damaged by interpolation etc. is another question.

            This result is among the most important results of pure scientific rationality in the study of Christian scripture; to sneer at it is to do an incredible injustice to real scholarship and real cognition.

    • Matt Cavanaugh

      You also assume Paul wrote the received Galatians.

  • Herro

    >”Tim goes on to note that even Richard Carrier (who has a PhD) begrudgingly decides that this piece of evidence is 2:1 in favor of the historicity of Jesus. What the rest of his Bayesian enterprise seeks to obscure is that that ought to settle the matter. If you know my sibling and they mentioned me, but you have also heard a number of improbable things about me….”

    Carrier’s conclusion is that this text has a 66% chance of being about Jesus having a sibling and so on, and 33% of not being about Jesus having a sibling. This isn’t a blunder on Carrier’s part since we have to look at all of the evidence.

    • I don’t think you understood my point. Perhaps what I need to add in order to be clearer is that most of the evidence Carrier uses to dilute the force of the evidence of Jesus’ siblings is not positive evidence that Jesus was not historical, but evidence that Carrier judges weaker positive evidence that he was historical. I am disputing the appropriateness of using the evidence in this manner.

    • Matt Cavanaugh

      I agree with James (McGrath, not the brother of Jesus) that one can’t just sum up probabilities with a question like this. There is persuasive evidence that a James existed. At least by the 2nd Century, it was understood by some that he was Jesus’ brother. (cf. Hegesippus). If this was meant in a real sense — and if they are correct — then some real Jesus had to exist. All that cannot be dismissed by mere hand-waving or cargo-cult maths.

  • summers-lad

    “Each piece of evidence needs to be evaluated on its own merits. And the fact that some evidence does not confirm something should never be treated as undermining what the positive evidence shows.” Creationists need to learn this too.

  • Mark

    Thanks for pointing out the new Tim O’Neill essay, which is awesome. He is a mighty soldier in the battle for rationality.

  • “[T]his piece of evidence is 2:1 in favor of the historicity of Jesus. What the rest of his Bayesian enterprise seeks to obscure is that that ought to settle the matter.”

    This is why I find it so difficult to place any weight on the consensus of biblical scholars. There is a real want of probablistic understanding in the notion that the entire question could be settled by a single piece of evidence about which there is 33 1/3% uncertainty.

    This is precisely the mistake that Ehrman made inDid Jesus Exist? Despite acknowledging elsewhere that we cannot possibly know whether the text of Galatians was accurately transmitted during the 150 years prior to the earliest extant manuscripts, he claims that we can be certain beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt that Jesus existed based on Galatians 1:19.

    • John MacDonald

      Vinny said:

      “This is why I find it so difficult to place any weight on the consensus of biblical scholars. There is a real want of probablistic understanding in the notion that the entire question could be settled by a single piece of evidence about which there is 33 1/3% uncertainty.”

      A single alien visiting earth would explode the claim/belief/supposed evidence that we are alone in the Universe. And, Doherty/Carrier/Price doubting the universally attested to reading of Galatians 1:19 doesn’t equate to there being 33 1/3% uncertainty about this piece of evidence.

      • I don’t see how that has anything to do with what I wrote, John.

        I was addressing McGrath’s claim that Carrier’s assessment of Galatians 1:19 as favoring historicity 2:1 “ought to settle the matter.” I was not making an argument concerning the accuracy of that assessment.

        • John MacDonald

          Would you agree that the usual reading of the James passage, if true, would invalidate mythicism regardless of whatever other supposed evidence mythicists have?

          • If it were true that Paul—or anyone else for that matter—met the biological brother of Jesus, then it would follow that Jesus was a historical person. Unfortunately, given the quality of the sources, I’m hard pressed to see how we would ever be justified in talking in terms of what is true rather than what is likely to be true or even what might be true.

          • John MacDonald

            How probable do you think the traditional reading of the James passage in Paul is of being accurate : 0-100% (0 being false and 100 being certain)?

          • 50-50 with a margin of error of 40.

          • John MacDonald

            Nice, lol.

            “…some men aren’t looking for anything logical, like money. They can’t be bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with. Some men just want to watch the world burn.”

            (Michael Caine as Alfred, in Batman, The Dark Knight – referring to The Joker)

          • It is unfortunately the case that probability estimates based on very small sample sizes are subject to wide margins of error. The notion that Galatians 1:19 can be turned into some sort of trump card strikes me as silly.

          • John MacDonald

            What alternative reading do you suggest?

          • The obvious alternatve is that a spiritual relationship is intended rather than a biological one.

          • Perhaps not preferable at all, but not an alternative that can be wished away either.

          • There are in every field less probable but nonetheless possible alternatives to that which the preponderance of evidence most strongly supports. Plasma cosmology is not an alternative to the Big Band that “can be wished away,” but that doesn’t mean that it should be embraced by the public as though it were every bit as likely as what most physicists believe occurred.

          • John MacDonald

            The problem with identifying “brother of the lord” in Galatians as a cultic title rather than as a biological relationship indentifier is that James is being contrasted with Cephas, and so you run into the somewhat odd implication that Cephas would not be a “brother of the lord.” Ehrman has pointed this out to Carrier repeatedly.

          • As I’ve said before, I don’t find Ehrman persuasive on that point. I think that “brother of the Lord” is being used to identify which James it was that Paul met on his first visit to Jerusalem, not to draw a contrast between James and Peter.

          • You do indeed say this every time, and I keep emphasizing that the point is not that Paul was deliberately contrasting James and Peter, but that James is being singled out as the Lord’s brother while mentioned alongside Peter. You still won’t say what the nickname specified and how it identified James, if not as “the Lord’s brother” in the obvious sense of that phrase.

          • I’m not sure what the name specified, but I’m not sure what “Simon the Zealot” or “Thomas the Twin” specified either.

            In the context of Paul’s writings, I think that the most obvious sense of “brother” is spiritual brother and the most obvious sense of “the Lord” is the risen Christ rather than the earthly Jesus. I don’t see much evidence to settle the question.

          • John MacDonald

            Doesn’t “2 Corinthians 5:16” seem to suggest Jesus used to be someone people knew as a regular fleshly human person, but now they no longer do so, and instead know him as a spirit (or something like that)? The text says “From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer.” How do you interpret this passage?

          • I think that the passage is talking about how Paul and other believers have changed, not how Christ changed.

          • John MacDonald

            If the passage is about “epistemological approach,” then I am a little confused by your position. Mythicists say the Jesus movement started through the Big Bang revelatory visions of the celestial Jesus that Cephas and the Twelve were having (as per 1 Cor 15:5). So what would it mean to say the early Jesus movement first regarded (ἐγνώκαμεν -2 Cor 5:16) Jesus according to the flesh, but later they no longer (οὐκέτι) did so. Wouldn’t first discovering Jesus through visions be a kind of knowing that was not “according to the flesh (κατὰ σάρκα)” from the outset? 2 Cor 5:16 seems to contradict a mythicist reading of 1 Cor 15:5.

          • I am not sure that Paul is talking collectively about the Jesus movement. I think he may be saying that individuals first see Christ from their fleshly point of view, but they are transformed by their encounter, after which they see things from a spiritual point of view.

          • John MacDonald

            Every commentary I can find argues that the distinction is between first knowing Christ as a simple human Jew and his earthly qualifications for being the Messiah (princely in nature , born of the line of David, etc.), and later moving beyond that and knowing him as the messiah because of his exalted state. So, Paul as a persecutor of the church would have abhorred the idea that a crucified peasant was being proclaimed as the messiah, but he later changed his view when he had his conversion vision/experience. So, for instance, we read:

            (1) Meyer’s NT Commentary: “Paul had known Christ κατὰ σάρκα, so long as the merely human individuality of Christ, His lower, earthly appearance (comp. Chrysostom and Theodoret), was the limit of his knowledge of Him. At the time when he himself was still a zealot against Christ, and His persecutor, he knew Him as a mere man, as a common Jew, not as Messiah, not as the Son of God; as one justly persecuted and crucified, not as the sinless Reconciler and the transfigured Lord of glory, etc. It was quite different, however, since God had revealed His Son in Paul (Galatians 1:16), whereby he had learned to know Christ according to His true, higher, spiritual nature (κατὰ πνεῦμα, Romans 1:4).”

            (2) Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers: “The true solution of the problem is probably to be found in the fact that he had once thought, even before he appeared as the persecutor of the Church, of the Christ that was to come as others thought, that his Messianic expectations had been those of an earthly kingdom restored to Israel. Jesus of Nazareth did not fulfil those expectations, and therefore he had opposed His claim to be the Messiah. Now, he says, he had come to take a different view of the work and office of the Christ. (3) It follows, if this interpretation is correct, that he speaks of the period that preceded his conversion. not of an imperfect state of knowledge after it, out of which he had risen by progressive stages of illumination and clearer vision of the truth. Now and from henceforth, he seems to say, we think of Christ not as the King of Israel, but as the Saviour of mankind.”

            (3) Benson Commentary: “Yea, if we have known Christ after the flesh — So as to love him merely with a human love; or, so as to regard our external relation to him, as being of the same nation with him, or our having conversed with him on earth, or so as to expect only temporal benefits from him; or have governed ourselves by any carnal expectations from the Messiah as a temporal prince who should exalt our nation to dignity, wealth, and power. Mr. Locke thinks this is said with a reference to “their Jewish false apostle, who gloried in his circumcision, and perhaps in his having seen Christ in the flesh, or being some way related to him.” Yet now, henceforth — Since our illumination and conversion; know we him no more — In that way, but wholly after a spiritual and divine manner, suitable to his state of glory, and our expectations of spiritual and eternal salvation from him.”

            (4) Barnes notes on the bible “Yet now henceforth know we him no more – We know him no more in this manner. Our conceptions and views of him are changed. We no more regard him according to the flesh; we no longer esteem the Messiah who was to come as a temporal prince and warrior; but we look on him as a spiritual Saviour, a Redeemer from sin. The idea is, that his views of him had been entirely changed. It does not mean, as our translation would seem to imply, that Paul would have no further acquaintance with Christ, but it means that from the moment of his conversion he had laid aside all his views of his being a temporal sovereign, and all his feelings that he was to be honored only because he supposed that he would have an elevated rank among the monarchs of the earth.”

            (4) Expositor’s Greek Testament: ” Paul as contrasted with his opponents at Corinth, from henceforth, sc., this conviction having mastered us, know no man after the flesh, i.e., are quite indifferent as to his mere external qualifications as a preacher of the Gospel, his eloquence, Jewish birth, etc.: we are not like those who glory ἐν προσώπῳ and not ἐν καρδίᾳ (2 Corinthians 5:12); cf. Galatians 2:6.—f1εἰ καὶ ἐγνώκαμεν κ.τ.λ.: even though we have known (the distinction between οἴδαμεν and ἐγνώκαμεν is hardly to be pressed) Christ after the flesh, i.e., though there was a time in my life when I, like my Judaising opponents now, laid great stress on the local and hereditary, and, so to speak, fleshly “notes” of the Messiah who was to come, yet now we know Him so no more, i.e.,”

          • John MacDonald

            There seems to be a κατὰ σάρκα outlook on Jesus as a crucified criminal, and then a new one where God had revealed His Son in Paul (Galatians 1:16), whereby he had learned to know Christ according to His true, higher, spiritual nature (κατὰ πνεῦμα, Romans 1:4).”

          • Apart from your inability to discern the meaning of “zealous” and “twin”, saying “X the brother/son/daughter/mother/father/friend of Y” is commonplace and not especially hard to understand, whatever one may make of other nicknames that are not really analogous.

          • For Paul, using “brother” to designate a spiritual relationship and “Lord” to designate a supernatural being is commonplace.

          • Where does Paul use “brothers of the Lord” in a spiritual sense? This is a language we are talking about, not some kind of magical code of the sort religious fundamentalists treat it as, where all it takes is the presence of a favorite word to import any meaning one wishes…

          • I am treating what Paul means by “brother of the Lord” as an open question. Isn’t it relevant to consider how he uses the words “brother” and “Lord” elsewhere?

          • If you are doing fundamentalist exegesis using Strong’s Concordance then it would definitely be. But if you are treating Paul’s letters as human writings in an actual human language rather than a mystical code, then the differences between his phrasing here and elsewhere are also relevant, as is the context, in relation to which the range of possible meanings that words have in a lexicon needs to be narrowed down appropriately.

            If a Catholic friend of yours sometimes says the Our Father, and on a previous occasion has mentioned Father Joseph, is that relevant to what she means when she introduces a man to you on another occasion and says, “this is my father”?

          • I don’t personally know any Catholics who use the possessive pronoun when referring to Catholic priests as “father” (although it wouldn’t shock me if some do). On the other hand, I know many people who use the possessive pronoun when referring to someone they deem to be their spiritual brother or spiritual sister, so if I saw a reference in a letter to “my brother” or “my sister” without any other context, I would certainly consider it relevant if the writer regularly used the terms to designate a spiritual relationship.

          • We are not asking about people who call someone else “my brother” or more specifically “my brother in Christ.” We are asking about the two places where Paul uses a different phrase – “the brothers of the Lord” and “James the brother of the Lord” in a manner that shows that the reference is not to them being Christians because this was true of the others mentioned. Does it really make sense to you if the meaning of 1 Corinthians 9:5 is “Don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Christians and Cephas?”

          • No. I do not believe that Paul is using “Lord’s brothers” as a synonym for “Christians” in 1 Cor. 9:5. On the other hand, I am not aware of any traditions that have Joses, Judas, and Simon traveling about with their wives. James is the only one of Jesus’ biological brother about whom stories are told, and those stories have him remaining in Jerusalem. If there were a group of Jesus’ biological brothers known to be missionaries, I would expect to see other references to them.

          • If he was not using it to mean Christians, then what do you think he meant here? Why would we have other references to Jesus’ brothers’ wives, when we scarcely have any references to Jesus’ brothers?

          • We don’t have a reference to Jesus’ brothers’ wives. We have a reference to the wives of the brothers of the Lord, which I think may refer to some group other than the wives of Jesus’ biological brothers.

          • Who do you think the Lord is that Paul was referring to?

          • John MacDonald

            You and Vinny have been having this same debate for years, and neither of you has budged an inch, lol.

          • Vinny’s dogmatic agnosticism coupled with his constant evasiveness in these discussions most certainly has budged me! It has played a major role in persuading me that mythicists and their sympathizers are engaging in motivated reasoning. One cannot engage in attempts at discussion that are this degree of frustrating without being moved by it.

          • John MacDonald

            I think people gravitate toward shocking theses, like The Da Vinci Code, and so give such theses more weight than is warranted by the evidence. One of the most popular shows on The History Channel right now is “The Curse Of Oak Island,” which explores the idea of whether the Templars may have escaped to Oak Island in Nova Scotia and buried their treasure there, even though after a number of seasons of digging no evidence has been found.

          • I think Paul was referring to the risen Christ who he believed he had encountered through revelation and scripture. I don’t think that Paul attached any theological significance to an earthly Jesus.

          • This is not about whether Paul gave this or that theological significance. Kindly stay focused on the subject at hand for once. Risen from what, and from where? Do you understand these to have been celestial siblings? If so, how would that fit the meaning in 1 Corinthians and Galatians? If not, then do these words not tell us in passing about something to which Paul attributed no theological significance?

          • I think it may be relevant. Paul shows very little interest in the earthly Jesus (even though I think he might have believed in his existence), and he attaches little importance to biological relationships—e.g., “neither man nor woman” “neither Jew nor Gentile”—as opposed to spiritual ones. This leads me to think that he would be unlikely to single anyone out in the Christian community based on their biological relationships with the earthly Jesus. Combined with the absence of any corroborating traditions concerning Joses, Judas, and Simon, I don’t see any compelling reason to think that Paul is referring to the biological brothers of Jesus in 1 Cor. 9:5.

            One thing I was thinking about today is the various factions that Paul mentions at the beginning of his letter: “What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.'” How do you suppose these factions identified themselves? Perhaps the ones who said “I follow Christ” called themselves “brothers of the Lord,” and that is whom Paul is referring to eight chapters later.

          • John MacDonald

            He does seem to take interest in some “non spiritual” relationships. He mentions the wives of the Apostles.

          • I just wish that you would accept that your last bit of speculation is precisely that, speculation for which you have no evidence, and which you are nonetheless trying to use as an excuse for avoiding following the natural course the evidence lies along.

          • If you imagine that I have any qualms about admitting to speculation, you are quite mistaken. Given the limitations of the sources, I think that it is difficult for anyone to do much more than speculate on many–if not most–points. That is why I find the certainty that mainstream scholars (and mythicists) are wont to claim so misguided.

            It is true that I speculated about a connection between “the brothers of the Lord” mentioned in 1 Cor. 9:5 and the followers of Christ mentioned 1 Cor. 1:12; however, I do think that it is reasonable to believe that there were various factions in Corinth about whom, unfortunately, we know next to nothing. I do not see how it is any less speculative to connect “the brothers of the Lord” in 1 Cor. 1:12 to Joses, Judas, and Simon who appear nowhere else in early Christian tradition than it is to connect them to one of the factions that Paul mentions earlier in the letter. We simply don’t have enough evidence to corroborate either connection with any degree of certainty.

            What I find particularly interesting about 1 Cor. 1:12 is that Paul identifies one of the factions by the claim “I follow Christ.” How can he possibly do this when all the factions were Christians and followers of Christ? How can one group be singled out by a description that might logically be applied to all the groups? Perhaps it is because Paul’s readers understood which faction was identified by the phrase “I follow Christ” even though the other factions were also Christians. By the same token, Paul’s Corinthian readers could have understood that a particular group was designated by “[spiritual] brothers of the Lord” and his Galatian readers could have understood that a particular James was designated by “[spiritual] brother of the Lord.”

          • Mark

            Reading this mind-opening exposition of possibilities is like doing hashish.

          • Ouch!

          • Mark

            You have opened the doors of perception. Maybe Paul himself is the messiah he preaches. How else could some say ‘I follow Paul’? Maybe he was ‘crucified’ on the astral plane? – He says he was there, after all, in a vision. The possibilities are endless. We really can’t be sure.

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t mean to interrupt your conversation with Vinny, but I have an idea about how you two might come to a meeting of the minds. Maybe you could delineate what “criteria” you are applying to determine which bible interpretations are “historically probable,” “historically speculative,”and “historically improbable.” You could then describe why your interpretations meet the “probable” criteria, whereas Vinny’s interpretations are merely “speculative” or “improbable.” Vinny and you seem to be disagreeing about whether or not we can determine what is “historically probable” given the nature of the evidence, so if you can outline your criteria it would probably be easier to show Vinny why your interpretations meet the desired “probable” criteria while his do not. Anyway, I don’t mean to get involved in your conversation. Just a thought.

          • Yawn.

          • Mark

            Teach me more possibilities. Maybe … Could be … Perhaps …

          • Zzzzzz……

          • Mark

            Now say: “Maybe I’m dreaming; it’s possible, and if so ….”

          • Gary

            Ehrman’s latest book, “The Triumph of Christianity”…
            “Or consider the church in Corinth. Paul’s first letter to the church indicates numerous problems experienced by numerous people. There are factions in the church with different members following different spiritual leaders; Paul mentions four of the factions (1 Corinthians 1:12)….
            Surely this enormous mass of problems presupposes a community of dozens and dozens of people. And this is just twenty-five years after the death of Jesus, in just one location. There could not be merely fifty-five Christians in the entire world.”

            Ehrman is arguing numbers. Along with this, he lists likely numbers of Christians in the entire world:
            30 CE – 20 Christians
            60CE – 1,280 Christians; say 1,000 to 1,500
            100 CE – 8,389 Christians; say 7,000 to 10,000

            Add to that,
            “Paul himself founded churches in the regions of Macedonia, Achaia, Asia Minor, and elsewhere. We know of his churches in Corinth, Thessalonica, Philippi, Ephesus, throughout the region of Galatia, probably in Syria and Cilicia, and possibly in the Nabataean kingdom called Arabia in the New Testament. He also refers to other churches he did not found: for example, in Jerusalem, Damascus, Antioch, Colossae, and Rome. Altogether sixty-five communities are mentioned in the Pauline letters…”

            So, if you had about 1,200 Christians in 65 communities around 55 CE, just simple division gets an average of 18 Christians in each community.

            So, my conjecture, (using Ehrman’s data, but not reflecting how Ehrman used it – different subject):

            Corinth probably did have only a few dozen Christians in their community when 1 Corinthians was written. And the group was divided into at least four factions. So, perhaps each faction, being so small and cozy, had pet names for each.

            Let me say, though, I certainly still believe that James was the Brother (biological) of Jesus. But certainly not with 1.0 probability. I also think the more interesting conclusion would be that James’ faction in Jerusalem was also probably in the few dozens. So, all this talk about Romans wanting to persecute Christians may indeed have been exaggerated by Christian writers. Not that Christians weren’t persecuted before 66AD, just they were lumped into all the crazy sects of Judaism that existed at the same time. The fact that Rome fought an actual war and destroyed Jerusalem in 66-70AD, shows the Romans were far more worried about rebellious Jews, than crazy, minor irritation Christians.

          • Gary

            Paul should have been more worried about Romans persecuting Jews, than Paul persecuting Christians, when he was alive. Unless Paul suffered from OCD.

          • Mark

            Paul attaches massive importance to the resurrection and thus to an earthly Jesus – who after death was transformed as we will be, even if we are not dead at the magic moment.

          • Jim

            Do you think that Paul’s claim that he had persecuted Jesus followers is true? If so, what do you think may have motivated him to do that? And besides revelation and scripture only, is it possible that some of what he learned about Jesus may have been related to him bopping Christians on the head (sorry bunny foo foo 🙂 )?

          • I’m not sure whether it’s true or not. He may simply have figured out–as many preachers have since–that portraying your former self as being Christ’s worst enemy makes your conversion story that much more impressive.

            Assuming Paul did persecute Jesus’ followers, I don’t see how we can be sure what motivated him–particularly because he doesn’t say–or whether it had anything to do with what the Christians actually believed or practiced. Religious minorities make convenient scapegoats for those in power, and lies are often used to inspire those who carry out the persecuation. The charges that inspired Paul to attack the messianic cults may have had no more basis in fact than the ones that were used to incite the Tsarist pogroms.

          • John MacDonald

            Presumably Paul was persecuting the Christians because they were claiming a crucified criminal was the messiah, and this flew in the face of Paul’s Judaism, which Paul says he was extremely passionate about. In this regard, Paul writes: “13For you have heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how severely I persecuted the church of God and tried to destroy it. 14I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries and was extremely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.(Galatians 1:13-14)”

          • Why is that presumable? Aren’t religious persecutions often founded on false claims about the persecuted groups? The Romans claimed that Christians practiced incest and cannibalism. The Europeans claimed that Jews practiced ritual infanticide. When the ruling elite faces popular unrest, scapegoating a religious minority with lies is a tried and true strategem.

            There was a small Jewish elite in early 1st century Palestine who prospered under Roman rule and a large lower class that suffered. By stirring up religious fanatics like Paul against the messianic cults, the Jewish elite could placate the Romans and distract the populace.

          • John MacDonald

            Paul seems to be claiming he persecuted the first Christians because he was zealous in his Judaism – so persecuting Christians is something someone would do if they were “really Letter of the Law” Jews.

          • Yes. That is what Paul seems to be claiming, but I’m not sure I should have any more confidence in his claims than I have in Lee Strobel’s claims about what an ardent atheist he was prior to his conversion. I think that I have to allow for the possibility that Paul’s understanding of his earlier activies has been shaped either conciously or unconsciously to achieve his evangelistic purposes.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said:

            (1) There was a small Jewish elite in early 1st century Palestine who prospered under Roman rule and a large lower class that suffered. By stirring up religious fanatics like Paul against the messianic cults, the Jewish elite could placate the Romans and distract the populace.

            (2) I’m not sure whether it’s true or not. He may simply have figured out–as many preachers have since–that portraying your former self as being Christ’s worst enemy makes your conversion story that much more impressive.

            I am, of course, sympathetic to this point of view. The Christians were a social nuisance to the Roman administrators because when they would proselytize they would say things like it is foolish to worship the Roman emperor as a god, or the traditional gods of the state for that matter (see Ehrman, The Triumph of Christianity, 2018).

            I have outlined my thoughts on the social engineering/noble lie approach to early Christianity here: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.ca/2018/03/examining-easter-peering-behind-veil-of.html . I talk about Ehrman’s view of the Roman persecution of the Christians in the “Conclusion” section.

            From a secular point of view, If we have the “Noble Lie” theory of Christian Origins as an alternative to the “Hallucination” model, all hermeneutics break down because it becomes impossible to say with certainty “why” anyone is doing or saying anything. Any guess is merely possible. As Yoda says:

            The Dark side clouds everything.

            The Dark side operates quietly, “in the Dark” as it were, and their intentions are known only to them.

          • John MacDonald

            The question is: How reliably can we retrodict evidence into an interpretive framework if we can’t say what the player’s motives/intentions were?

          • Not very reliably at all, I would say. It is hard to construct a framework from a single plank.

          • John MacDonald

            Yep. As that great Cultural Physician Nietzsche saw, interpretive contortions to try to divine the “meaning” of the text can be trumped by the question of what “function” or “purpose” the text serves. Hence, Nietzsche’s analysis of “Slave Morality.” As that great psychologist of religion Alfred Loisy argued long ago, for instance, the genealogy of the story of Peter’s denials may have been a vicious smear circulated by Paulinists against the so-called Pillar to discredit him much in the same spirit of Marcion’s treatment of the twelve. Loisy also points to the cautionary tale of Ananias and Sapphira, struck dead magically for welching on their church pledge, which seems also to be in the same propaganda spirit.

            The reported miracles of Jesus also seem to serve a propaganda/proselytizing purpose as the early church grew. In Paul, we are told the preachers didn’t offer miracles to demonstrate the superiority of Jesus over competing saviors (see 1 Cor 1:22-23) . But by the time we reach the Gospels, the miracles of Jesus abound. This could be legendary accretion, but it just as likely could be propaganda/proselytizing charlatanry. In the Gospel of John, for instance, miracles are identified as a source of faith. Regarding the water to wine miracle, Randel Helms points out that though the central feature of this miracle story, the transformation of one liquid into another, no doubt comes from the lore of Dionysus, the basic outline of the story owes much to a mimesis or imitation of the story of Elijah in 1 Kings 17:8-24 LXX (Helms, p. 86). In it, the widow of Zarephath, whose son has just died, upbraids the prophet: “What have I to do with you, O man of God?” (Ti emoi kai soi, 17:18). John has transferred this brusque address to the mouth of Jesus, rebuking his mother (2:4, Ti emoi kai soi, gunai). Jesus and Elijah both tell people in need of provisions to take empty pitchers (udria in 1 Kings 17:12, udriai in John 2:6-7), from which sustenance miraculously emerges. And just as this feat causes the woman to declare her faith in Elijah (“I know that you are a man of God,” v. 24), so does Jesus’ wine miracle cause his disciples to put their faith in him (v. 11).

            Miracles did serve a propaganda factor in antiquity, such as the outrageous healing testimonials inscribed on clay tablets in the shrine to Asclepius. Price famously said “It would be special pleading to deny that the Christian ‘Ministers of the Word’ could not have been just as deep into chrlatanry as the sneaky pagans.”

            What Loisy failed to recognize and remained in a dogmatic slumber about is that even if we can’t directly see ulterior motives behind a particular piece of text, it is still very much a psychologizing leap of faith to simply impute honest motives behind it as a kind of default position. We simply don’t know. As I said, regarding a secular point of view, the “Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins” isn’t meant to replace the “Hallucination Theory,” but only that either is possible, so we are unable to say anything on the matter regarding motives or intentions. On the other hand, maybe Cephas and his friends actually encountered the risen Jesus. Who knows?

          • Given the sparsity of documented resurrections, I think the historian has to assess as pretty low the probability that Peter and the gang actually encounters the risen Christ.

            On the other hand, with respect to the investigation of the origin of any religion, I suspect that a good null hypothesis might be that some half-a-whack-job managed to convince a bunch of gullible suckers that his invented stories were revelations from God.

          • John MacDonald

            Hey Vinny. I especially appreciate the way you are cautious in assigning probabilities in New Testament studies, erring on the side of “possible” rather than “probable.” Probabilities (e.g., 0/impossible; 0.25/improbable; 0.5/possible; 0.75/probable; 1.0/certain) are assigned in reference to criteria, either implicit or explicit criteria. It’s like the way teachers assign marks to student work (A,B,C,D). Teachers have (or should have) “criteria” that they judge the student work on as to whether the student’s work meets the criteria to more or less of a degree. So, for instance, a piece of narrative writing may be judged according to such criteria as effective use of Voice, Ideas, Presentation, Conventions, Organization, Word Choice, and Sentence Fluency (using modifiers like “needs support/somewhat/generally, proficiently, expertly”). Making the criteria explicit clarifies for the student why they received the grade they did, and is “accountability” for the teacher. What you don’t want is the teacher giving a student a “C minus” because they think it “looks like” a C minus. We must demand the same degree of precision in making historical hermeneutic judgments. If someone says it is “probable” that Peter denied Jesus, we must ask what criteria they are using to determine “impossible/improbable/possible/probable/certain.” I think biblical historians sometimes focus on their criteria of authenticity before establishing whether general criteria of historical probability can be generated in the first place. It’s not enough to say a particular item “feels like it probably happened.” There’s no accountability/justification in such a probability assignment.

          • I am always impressed by the degree of certainty that New Testament scholars have about their conclusions. The consensus among classicists seems to be that the Socratic problem is unsolvable, despite having the writings of three contemporaries of Socrates. NT scholars, on the other hand, think that they can speak with certainty about specific aspects of the life and teachings of Jesus despite the lack of firsthand accounts or any way to determine how many times the extant accounts may be removed.

            I suspect that this may reflect the influence of confessional scholarship. A conservative scholar may deny that the evidence supports a mainstream scholar’s conclusion on a given point, but he will be reluctant to question whether there is sufficient evidence to resolve the point since that would undermine his own claims to certainty.

            We might, of course, aspire to greater certainty about Paul’s thinking since we have his writings; nevertheless, the fact that the NT scholars are wont to express excessive certainty about other questions leaves me reluctant to give them the benefit of the doubt.

          • Can you provide evidence for your claim about the consensus of Classicists? And is it, like the consensus of historians about Jesus, an agreement that historicity is never going be absolutely certain but is the most likely explanation for the evidence, or is it more akin to your unwillingness to say that anything is more probable than anything else?

          • According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the consensus would seem to be that the real Socrates cannot be recovered: “what we have is a set of interpretations, each of which represents a theoretically possible Socrates.” https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/socrates/supplement.html; https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/socrates/supplement.html

            There does not seem to be much doubt among classicists that the existence of a historical Socrates can be affirmed based on the writings of three contemporaries, Plato, Xenophon, and Aristophanes. The Socratic Problem concerns the lack of any valid criteria for distinguishing between the things Socrates actually taught and believed and the things that his contemporaries put into his mouth.

            This seems to me very different from the consensus among NT scholars who have nothing written by anyone who knew Jesus, but nonetheless think that they can identify things that Jesus really said and did.

          • So does this mean you are finally ready to stop being agnostic about the historicity of Jesus, and accept the consensus, and instead adopt a more rational agnosticism about what the historical Jesus said and did?

          • I’m sorry, but my opinions about historicity are little affected by the consensus of mainstream NT scholars. As long as they think they can have greater certainty about Jesus’ teachings than classicists think they can have about those of Socrates—while having worse sources—it will be hard for me to take their probability assessments seriously.

          • John MacDonald

            One question I have is if Paul was going around birthing mythicist churches, why didn’t mythicism survive, even if only as a heresy? According to Weaver and Schneider, the beginnings of the formal denial of the existence of Jesus can be traced to late 18th-century France with the works of Constantin François Chassebœuf de Volney and Charles-François Dupuis. Before that it isn’t even on the radar.

          • II have no idea whether Paul was birthing mythicist churches, but I don’t know that any heresies are terribly well documented prior to Irenaeus, so I wouldn’t necessarily expect to have much evidence of any heresies that didn’t survive into the second century.

          • John MacDonald

            It’s also interesting that the earliest opponents of Christianity weren’t accusing the first Christians of simply inventing a Jewish mystery religion (Which seems to be the mythicist position – Jewish opponents would probably have jumped all over that), but rather attacked Jesus’ character as not being the super-pious/upstanding guy the Christians were saying he was. Matthew preserves a tradition that says: “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at this glutton and drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and of sinners!’ (Matthew 11:19).” On an unrelated note, I finally got a copy of Paula Fredriksen’s book “Paul, The Pagan’s Apostle,” so it will be interesting to see what all the hype is about. It was discussed on this blog a while ago. At the time, I sent Dr. Fredriksen an Email as to whether Paul may have been advocating the Atonement point of view that was traditionally ascribed to him, and he was just taking scriptural citations/allusions out of context to bolster his argument. She replied that was a possibility.

          • And how do we know what accusations the earliest opponents of Christianity were leveling?

          • From the responses the early Christians made to those accusations, as we find them articulated in the texts they composed.

          • I think we probably need to be circumspect regarding the likely accuracy and completeness of arguments we infer from the responses they provoke. For example, I wouldn’t count on getting a very clear picture of evolutionary science from the writings of Ken Ham. Similarly, if I was to go by the writings of apologists, I would think that the “swoon theory” was one of the main skeptical objections to the historicity of the resurrection accounts. I suspect that you would not recommend that anyone infer your arguments from my responses.

            John McDonald said that he found it interesting that early Christians weren’t accused of simply founding a Jewish mystery religion, a statement which assumes, I think, a more complete picture of the earliest debates than we have.

          • John MacDonald

            It seems like the disciples were accused of having underhanded motives, stealing Jesus’ body, and falsely proclaiming him resurrected (reflected in Matthew 28:13-15)

          • Having bad motives and lying are pretty generic accusations that could probably be reasonably inferred regardless of how the early Christians responded.

            Once the empty tomb story was in circulation, it’s reasonable to assume that some skeptic speculated that the body had been stolen; however, we can’t assume that it was an accusation made by the earliest opponents because we can’t be sure that it was part of the earliest proclamation.

          • John MacDonald

            Mark goes out of his way to point out that Jesus is a simple human prophet who is subject to the limitations such simple human prophets have because of the unbelief of his/her families. Mark writes: “But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” 5 Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And He marveled because of their unbelief. Then He went about the villages in a circuit, teaching. (Mark 6:4-6).”

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said:

            “however, we can’t assume that it was an accusation made by the earliest opponents because we can’t be sure that it was part of the earliest proclamation.”

            But Matthew says, at least according to his sources, that the accusation of a stolen body was there from the very beginning, and persisted through to Matthew’s time. Matthew writes:

            “13 telling them, ‘You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.’ 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day. (Matthew 28:13-15)

          • Ohh.

            Matthew says it.

            Is this the same Matthew that tells us a few lines earlier that the dead came out of their tombs and went about the city saying “howdy” to people?

          • John MacDonald

            I think the zombie episode was Matthew’s way of portraying an idea Paul also had, namely, that the end of the age had begun, Jesus being the “firstfruits (1 Cor 15:23)” of the general resurrection of souls at the end of days, and the mass resurrection that Matthew describes is meant to characterize the first stage of that process.

          • John MacDonald

            I’m a bit confused. Do you impeach everything Matthew says because he includes supernatural stuff sometimes? That kind of makes doing history problematic generally, since many ancient historians include the supernatural from time to time.

          • As frustrating as it may be, I think that doing ancient history is generally problematic.

          • John MacDonald

            One thing I find difficult in doing ancient history is trying to separate the “form” of writing from the “purpose” of writing we find in ancient texts. The example we were speaking of above was trying to separate out the teachings of the historical Socrates from the ideas of Plato and Xenophon. I like this quote from classicist J.L. Moles, which sums up the problem nicely:

            “Do ancient historiographers sometimes say things they know to be factually untrue? Emphatically, yes. The accusation of deliberate fabrication is made repeatedly. Herodotus is dubbed the father, not only of history, but of lies; Polybius castigates historians not only for incompetence, but falsehood; Lucian tells of historians who claimed to be eye-witnesses of things they could not possibly have seen; invention and manipulation of factual material is (I believe) demonstrable in Herodotus and Plutarch, as well as Hellenistic tragic historians. The motives vary: some, of course, crudely political — propaganda, flattery, denigration; literary rivalry (to trump one’s predecessors, of which we have seen examples even in Thucydides); the desire to spin a good yarn (often important in Herodotus and other historians of the exotic); sometimes (surely) historiographical parody; sheer emotional arousal or entertainment; the need to make moral points or bring out broader patterns or causes behind complicated sequences of events. Why then do Herodotus and Plutarch behave in this way? Serious ancient historians (which both Herodotus and Plutarch intermittently are) face the problem of the eternal see-saw of history: the need to generalize from specifics. No serious ancient historian was so tied to specific factual truth that he would not sometimes help general truths along by manipulating, even inventing, ‘facts’. Of course, the requisite manipulation could sometimes be achieved through the medium of ‘what-is-said’ material, to whose historicity the ancient historian did not commit himself.” (J.L. Moles, “Truth and Untruth in Herodotus and Thucydides” in Lies and fiction in the Ancient World edited by Christopher Gill and Timothy Peter Wiseman, University of Exeter Press, 1993. — pages 90, 115, 120).”. – Originally posted on Vridar. The entire book is fascinating!

            This is exacerbated in the New Testament tradition with the presence of forgeries (which the forgers must have though God approved of, because why else would they have lied?), as well as the fact that God himself is presented as a liar (see 1 Kings 22:21-22).

          • John MacDonald

            One question I have about the idea that Christianity began with visions and the allegorical reading of scriptures of/about a celestial Christ is that there seems to be two phases to the Jesus movement.

            Under the traditional “historical Jesus model,” while he was alive Jesus basically took his mission to other Jews (see, for instance, Matthew 10:5; 15:24). To illustrate this, Peter needs to be nudged by heaven to baptize a pagan centurion in Joppa (Acts 10:1-48). Outreach to the Pagans only really get underway in Acts 11. Soon after Jesus’ death, the gospel had reached Damascus (Gal 1:15-17), and twenty years following Jesus’ death gentile missions were well established by Paul and others (Gal passim; 2 Cor 11:22-23; Phil 3:2-6).

            Fredriksen argues:

            “The confusions and conflicts of this first generation allow us to infer … [something] about the historical Jesus of Nazareth … Jesus himself seems to have left no instruction on the integration of the gentiles, nor did he in his own mission model such “outreach” for his disciples. Perhaps he assumed – along with the ancient scriptural paradigm – that gentiles would enter into God’s Kingdom as a divinely initiated event. In any case, gentiles as such seem not to have been his concern. (Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagan’s Apostle, 30).”

            Anyway, the point seems to be that there were two phases to the Jesus movement: One, when he was alive, preaching to the Jews, and a new one, after his death, bringing the message to everyone (Matthew 28:16-20)

            My question is: Why would there be two distinct phases being reported if it all just started with visions? There really seems to be a difference in the movement before and after Jesus died.

          • Gary

            Paul. I think that’s the point of Ehrman’s new book.

          • John MacDonald

            Fredriksen says maybe not just Paul, but (to his fury) other Jewish Christ followers also strove to bring the good news of the coming Kingdom to non Jews (Gal passim; 2 Cor 11:22-23; Phil 3:2-6).

          • Gary

            Ehrman says “Christians then, starting at least with Paul, came to be missionary, convinced they had to convert the world. Goodman maintains it was Paul himself who came up with the idea. He was the innovator, “the single apostle who invented the whole idea of a systematic conversion of the world, area by geographic area.” At the same time, this is what makes it so striking and unexpected that, outside of Paul’s work itself, we do not know of any organized Christian missionary work – not just for the first century, but for any century prior to the conversion of most of the empire. As MacMullen has succinctly put it: “After Saint Paul, the Church had no mission.”

            “Had the apostle Paul not “seen the light” and become a worshiper of Jesus, the religion of Christianity, open to all people, both Jew and gentile, may never have developed into a worldwide phenomenon of any description whatsoever. It may well have instead remained sect of Judaism fated to have the historical importance of, say, the Sadducees or the Essenes: highly significant to historians of Jewish antiquity but scarcely the stuff of world-shaping proportions.”

          • John MacDonald

            I hope I am not misrepresenting Dr. Fredriksen. I just started reading her book.

            Referring to other Jewish followers of Christ (who Paul didn’t like) who were also trying to make inroads among the non-Jews, Paul wrote:

            “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:6–9).

            Regarding the Corinthians, Paul says some of the opposing “super-apostles” were apparently saying that Paul was weak and unreliable, and that was the reason he delayed his visit.

          • Gary

            “Referring to other Jewish followers of Christ (who Paul didn’t like) who were also trying to make inroads among the non-Jews”…

            I actually think Paul is talking to members of the church, who are following the wrong gospel, i.e. preaching to the choir, those that are already in the church. Not really “missionary work”, talking to pagans to convert them. These have already been converted (assuming they weren’t Jewish to begin with. So I don’t Paula is in conflict with Paul/Bart.

            The wrong Gospel may, just be Gnostic, or the Judaizers that want to follow the Law. Neither are Gentiles/pagan.

          • John MacDonald

            The point was that there were other Christ followers in Paul’s time who were attempting to get non-Jews to follow their message.

          • That seems plausible to me, but I don’t see that the evidence is really decisive one way or the other. Assuming that there were, I don’t see any way to determine that the Gentile outreach preceded Paul rather than following his lead.

          • John MacDonald

            Okay. On another note, I was wondering what your thoughts were on my point I raised the other day that Mark identifies Jesus as a typical, fallible human prophet who could not perform miracles in his home town because of the unbelief of his family. Jesus is not portrayed here as a God. Mark says:

            – “But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country, among his own relatives, and in his own house.” 5 Now He could do no mighty work there, except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And He marveled because of their unbelief. (Mark 6:4-6)

            I’m not pointing to this passage to say the pericope actually happened, but rather to show that Mark saw Jesus as a fallible human prophet, not a God. Any thoughts?

          • I do find it interesting that Jesus becomes more otherworldly as time goes by, from a fallible human in Mark to the “I am” of John. I think Paul might fit into that trajectory as well. Perhaps the explanation for Paul’s lack of interest in the earthly Jesus is that he considered him even more fallible and human than Mark did. i.e., Paul considered the pre-crucifixion Jesus a non-entity unworthy of mention. Maybe we can extrapolate back to a completely human Jesus.

            I don’t think that a strong argument for historicity is ever going to be based on a single verse like Galatians 1:19, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one to be found in some broader phenomenon like the supernatural progression of Jesus over time.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said:

            “Perhaps the explanation for Paul’s lack of interest in the earthly Jesus is that he considered him even more fallible and human than Mark did. i.e., Paul considered the pre-crucifixion Jesus a non-entity unworthy of mention.”

            Mythicists like to argue from the silence in Paul about the events of Jesus’s life that Paul didn’t know of any events, but, as you say, it may just be that Paul did know about the earthly Jesus, but considered all of Jesus’ deeds and wisdom teachings unworthy or distracting from the message Paul wanted people to focus on. Paul says:

            “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified … My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power. (1 Cor 2-5).”

            The phrase “For I resolved to know nothing” seems to imply Paul did in fact know more about Jesus that he could have shared, but decided not to in order to focus on the core of Paul’s message.

            The phrase “so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom” may allude to the idea that Paul is distancing himself from the idea that Paul (and Jesus) are to be understood simply as itinerant teachers, so as to focus on what was accomplished at Jesus’ resurrection by God = Christ as the “first fruits (1 Cor 15:23)” of the general harvest of souls at the end of days, which was now in motion.

          • I really don’t think that 1 Cor. 2:5 is going to get you where you want to go. According to at least some of the commentaries you cited earlier, Paul is drawing a distinction between the Messiah who was expected to be an earthly king and conquerer and the spiritual Messiah of the gospel; none of them seemed to think that he was referring to his personal knowledge of the earthly Jesus’ teachings. I can’t say that the commentaries strike me as terribly convincing though, and I think it might even be consistent with a mythicist interpretation.

            Even if your interpretation of “human wisdom” is correct, however, why should we think that Paul is talking about the teaching ministry of the earthly Jesus–which gets no other mention in his letters–rather than about Apollos and Cephas and the leaders of the other factions that he referenced in the previous chapter?

          • John MacDonald

            I think Paul is just saying he isn’t interested in “human wisdom” generally, whether his own or Apollos’ or Cephas’ or Jesus’, which would make sense of the fact that he doesn’t focus on Jesus’ teachings. Of course, he does reference Jesus’ teaching sometimes, such as the one on love being the greatest commandment, found in Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14;  Mark 12:28-31. Of course you could argue Paul and Mark just coincidentally chose to focus on just this idea because it is in the Old Testament and they both just happened upon it, but I think the simpler explanation of both of them focusing on it was Jesus teaching about Agape.

            Also, it is interesting Paul calls the resurrected Jesus the”first fruits (1 Cor 15:23)” of the general harvest of souls at the end of the age, because this seems to imply a commonality between Jesus and the rest of the harvest to come, namely, that they are all human, and human history was about to change.

          • That would explain why Paul wouldn’t want to focus on the teachings of the historical Jesus, but it doesn’t explain why James, Jude, the author of Hebrews and other early writers avoided them. Moreover, even if Paul didn’t want to discuss Jesus’ teachings, I think he might still have been forced to do so occasionally by opponents who cited them in support of their own positions.

            To me, the simplest explanation for the early writers ignoring the historical Jesus’ teachings is that the historical teacher wasn’t a teacher: he was something else, such as an insurrection as described in Rene Aslan’s Zealot. After Jesus was executed—along perhaps with his followers—someone had a vision of him raised from the dead. The theological interpretation given to this vision did not depend on the life of the historical Jesus and the movement that ensued did not depend on his teachings.

            As time went by, it was natural for people to invent stories about the life of Jesus that fit the movement’s interpretation of his death and resurrection. It was also natural to put the movement’s teachings in the historical Jesus’ mouth. Thus, it is no coincidence that Mark has Jesus saying things that are found in Paul’s letters. Nevertheless, the explanation for the lack of teachings attributed to Jesus in the earliest writings is that he was not yet understood to be a teacher.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said:

            (1) “The theological interpretation given to this vision did not depend on the life of the historical Jesus and the movement that ensued did not depend on his teachings.”

            – I think the better explanation is that Jesus taught the imminence of the Kingdom of God, and so his “appearances” described in the Pre Pauline Corinthian Creed/Poetry were interpreted apocalyptically as Jesus being the “first fruits” of the general harvest of souls at the end of the age. There really wouldn’t be any reason for the first Christian to interpret the “ghost/hallucinations” as having to do with the end of the world if Jesus hadn’t already gone around teaching the end was coming.

            (2) “To me, the simplest explanation for the early writers ignoring the historical Jesus’ teachings is that the historical teacher wasn’t a teacher: he was something else, such as an insurrection as described in Rene Aslan’s Zealot.”

            – I think Jesus was an apocalyptic teacher who wanted to prepare his followers for the imminent Kingdom of God (becoming righteous before God), and that he provided a model for his followers to become teachers. Pritchard points out that of the 90 times Jesus was addressed directly in the gospels, 60 times he was called Teacher. Jesus himself used the term when he said, “You call me Teacher and Lord, and rightly so, for that is what I am” (John 13:13). When Nicodemus came to Jesus by night, he said, “We know that you are a teacher who has come from God” (John 3:2). When Jesus had finished giving the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew tells us the crowds were so amazed at his teaching because “he taught as one having authority, not as the teachers of the law” (Matthew 7:29). The rabbis quoted each other, but supposedly Jesus spoke the true and authoritative words of God. Consider his reported final words, his last instructions, his ultimate command as given to his followers in the King James Version: “Go ye into all the world and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19 KJV). His final command was a teaching command. I think the sheer number of references to Jesus as a teacher shows this understanding was present in the very earliest sources Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John used, and so bloomed/multiplied in the actual gospel writing.

          • I think the sheer number of references to Jesus as a teacher shows this understanding was in the very earliest sources Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John used, and so bloomed/multiplied in the actual gospel writing.

            I disagree. I think that the complete absence of references to Jesus as a teacher in the earliest extant sources makes it difficult to justify positing other early sources that contained them. I think the likeliest explanation for the multiplication of references to Jesus as a teacher is that attributing teachings to Jesus proved effective both in proselytizing and in resolving internal disputes.

          • John MacDonald

            I disagree. So, you think Mark invented the idea that Jesus was a typical itinerant apocalyptic prophet/teacher who couldn’t perform miracles in his home town (Mark 6:5), and who’s family thought he was crazy for what he was teaching (Mark 3:21)? If the apocalyptic prophet/teacher part was invented, why portray Jesus as such a fallible prophet/teacher. And, as I said, if Jesus wasn’t teaching an imminent apocalypse, why were Cephas et al interpreting a simple ghost sighting apocalyptically? As well, the apocalyptic teaching, and the teaching of Love (agape) as the greatest commandment in order to get right with God given the imminence of the end of the age, we find independently in Paul and Mark ( Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14;  with Mark 12:28-31). Paul decided that this was what was important for his listeners to focus on (“I determined to know nothing among you but Christ and him crucified”), given other “super-apostles” were trying to lead them astray with other teachings. This was the essence of Christ’s message that Paul wanted them to focus on so they would be ready when the end times, which had already begun (Christ as the “first fruits”), was really put into motion by God.

          • I am not sure who invented that idea. I suspect that people invented stories about Jesus from a fairly early, but based on the New Testament epistles, I would judge that people first looked for guidance to Paul and the others who claimed visions of the risen Christ. As these men passed from the scene and as the movement spread away from them geographically, I suspect that the invented stories about Jesus gained in importance.

            I suspect that when people first started attributing miralces to Jesus, there may still have been people who remembered him from Galilee, and who said, “I never saw him do anything like that.” The idea that prophets are not honored in their hometowns was a natural response.

            I don’t get your idea that neither Cephas nor Paul nor anyone else could have interpreted a vision of the risen Jesus apocalyptically unless Jesus had actually taught about the end times first. Jesus did not introduce apocalyptic thinking into first centure Palestine. There were lots of ways that someone else could have come up with the idea.

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny said

            – “I suspect that when people first started attributing miralces to Jesus, there may still have been people who remembered him from Galilee, and who said, ‘I never saw him do anything like that.'”

            Earlier Vinny summed up our discussion to that point by saying:

            – “I do find it interesting that Jesus becomes more otherworldly as time goes by, from a fallible human in Mark to the “I am” of John. I think Paul might fit into that trajectory as well. Perhaps the explanation for Paul’s lack of interest in the earthly Jesus is that he considered him even more fallible and human than Mark did. i.e., Paul considered the pre-crucifixion Jesus a non-entity unworthy of mention. Maybe we can extrapolate back to a completely human Jesus. ”

            I’m happy we’ve moved beyond the Christ Myth Theory!

            As to the silence of Paul about the teachings of Jesus (except for the Love commandment teaching and the apocalyptic teaching), I think we can make a sound historical/hermeneutic inference here. Paul says there were followers of Jesus teaching another Christ, a different gospel from the one Paul was teaching (2 Cor 11:5, Gal 1:7-7). Paul says “I consider myself in no way inferior to those ‘super-apostles,'” from which we can perhaps infer there may have been good reason for people to think Paul was inferior to these people. The reason might have been that these people knew the earthly Jesus, and so they were haughty about their status, and boastfully proclaiming stuff related to Jesus’ life and teaching that they knew from their time spent with Jesus. Paul said he was equal to any other apostle because Christ appeared to him (“Have I not seen Christ?”). It would be perfectly reasonable for Paul to distinguish his message from that of those “super-apostles” by focusing on the core message of God raising Jesus from the dead as the “first fruits” and what that entailed (If you want to get into the Kingdom of God, it’s time to start acting Lovingly {agape} toward your neighbor, no need to marry, etc.)

          • I’m not sure that I have ever advocated the Christ Myth Theory.

            Yes, we can “perhaps infer there may have been,” a reason that Paul was thought inferior, but perhaps the reason may have been that the other apostles looked down on him because he was a latecomer who dealt with Gentiles.

          • John MacDonald

            I don’t think the problem was that Paul was dealing with gentiles, because Paul was complaining these other “apostle-factions” were spreading messages to his followers that presented Christ in a different way than the way Paul wanted Christ portrayed.

          • We know that part of the problem concerned the need for Gentile converts to be circumcised, which the other apostles had to know was really going to dampen the appeal of Paul’s message. I think we have to allow for the possibility that the other apostles didn’t care whether the movement lost Gentile converts because they didn’t think much of Gentiles.

          • John MacDonald

            Paul gives testimony to the fact that his flock was in danger of being led astray by other apostles who wanted Paul’s flock to turn away from Paul’s Christ interpretation and follow theirs instead. In this light, Paul says:

            “4For if someone comes and proclaims a Jesus other than the One we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the One you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it way too easily. 5I consider myself in no way inferior to those ‘super-apostles.’ (2 Corinthians 11:5).”

            “Evidently some people are troubling you and trying to distort the gospel of Christ. 8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be under a divine curse! (Gal 1:7-8).”

            By the way, Vinny, thanks for taking the time to chat with me! I never took a course on religion or history in University except for Philosophy of Religion, so I’m a novice here. I also grew up in a secular home, so I don’t have the usual background knowledge about the bible. On the other hand, I did study Philosophical Hermeneutics, so I do have some ideas on how interpretations “work.” Deleuze said: “I’m not interested in what it ‘means,’ but rather in ‘how it works.'” lol Anyway, chatting with people here helps me learn.

          • This only works if one makes an arbitrary gulf between sources that were written within a decade or less of one another, and then treating the letters as somehow deficient or suggestive because they do not do things that letters typically do not do. It is a common mythicist move, but I have no idea why people don’t see through it…

          • Letters typically discuss matters that are relevant to the issues they address. If the life and teachings of the historical Jesus were considered authoritative and normative for the early church, Paul, James, Jude, the author of Hebrews, the author of the Johaninne letters, and the authors of the pseudo-Pauline letters would have had reason–at least occasionally–to discuss things that Jesus said or did.

          • Can you provide any evidence that this was typical of ancient letters? I have a sense that few mythicists have any actual acquaintance with either the practicalities or the norms of ancient letter writing…

          • I have read the New Testament letters and I can see that authoritative sources of wisdom–i.e.,scripture–are cited frequently. Nevertheless, the authoritative teachings of the earthly Jesus don’t rate a mention.

          • Yes, authoritative written sources were cited frequently. When Jesus taught, according to our sources, he cited those sources frequently, and his teaching as we have it was above all else about the interpretation of those texts. The configuration of the interpretative framework of the letters – even letters that disagree with one another – match up with the interpretation and emphases of Jesus. And so what is it that you were expecting to find in the letters that isn’t there, and how does it supposedly cast doubt on whether there was a historical Jesus who taught things? Are you expecting there to be the same kind of citation of unwritten material as had become customary for use in relation to scripture, and if so, I will ask again, what basis do you have for thinking that such an expectation is appropriate?

          • So Paul didn’t cite the authoritative teachings of Jesus because they weren’t written down?

          • He certainly could not learn them the way one learns written material, and could not cite them the way one cites written material. Even when it comes to written texts that could be read and heard repeatedly, one finds allusions and citations with variation in the wording. I think you are looking for something from Paul that you won’t find in any comparable case involving unwritten traditions. And of course, on the one hand, you’ll complain that Paul does not give more of the teaching of Jesus, and then you’ll turn around and do the mythicist thing and insist that in those places where he explicitly refers to the teaching of the Lord, he isn’t citing teaching of Jesus anyway. And so why spend years just repeating this same song and dance routine? 🙁

            Of related interest: https://davidbcapes.com/articles/not-so-brief-articles/jesus-and-paul/

          • Paul does quote things that he claims to have received from the Lord. How did he do that when if they weren’t written down? How does he quote hymns and creeds if they weren’t first written down.

          • So you are trying to both claim that he doesn’t quote things, and that he does? Or am I not understanding you?

          • He quotes the eucharistic formula in 1 Cor. 11, but he says that he received it from the Lord, not that it was passed down to him from human sources. He also quotes creeds and hymns.

          • How do you know he quotes creeds and hymns? He never says, “here I am quoting something that you have heard spoken or sung as part of our tradition/practice.” Why are you willing to accept that he does that, but not that he quotes material that stemmed from Jesus?

            I am not going to play the mythicist “he could have received this material directly from the Lord, and it just miraculously matched the eucharistic practice of other Christians” game again…

          • I accept that Paul quotes creeds and hymns because the arguments I have read seem persuasive to me. Unfortunately, I have no way to know where the hymns or creeds came from.

            The reason that I do not accept that Paul quotes material that stemmed from Jesus is because Paul shows no interest in the earthly. All I can see that matters to Paul is the risen Christ who manifests himself through revelation, appearances and the scriptures. Nor do I see much hint in Paul that he thought that anyone he knew had encountered Jesus in any other way.

            I don’t think it follows that there was no historical Jesus, but I doubt that there was one who bore much resemblance to the Jesus of the gospels.

          • Because the Jesus who emphasized humbling oneself, who prioritized love over purity, who was thought to be descended from David, and who was crucified, is a poor fit to what you find in the letters?

          • No. Because the Jesus who was an authoritative teacher is a poor fit for the one I find in the letters.

          • John MacDonald

            You don’t consider the prioritizing of love over purity to be authoritative teaching?

          • Where do the epistles attribute that to the historical Jesus as an authoritative teaching?

          • John MacDonald

            Paul speaks of the central commandment of Love (Agape) in Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14, which agrees with the central commandment of Love (Agape) attributed to Jesus in Mark 12:28-31, Matthew 22:34-40; Luke 10:25-28; and John 13:34. Is it just a coincidence that Paul makes Love (Agape) one of his central teachings, and that the gospels identify it as also being a central teaching of Jesus? I think that the reason the Love commandment is center stage in the gospels and attributed to Jesus is that it was one of Jesus’ central focuses, and that’s why Paul imported it too. I don’t think it is the best reading of the evidence to claim (as you seem to suggest) the Love (agape) commandment is central to Paul, and to all the Gospels attributing the commandment to Jesus, but it is just by accident or coincidence.

          • It is has nothing to do with accident or coincidence. If Paul’s epistles were written first, then anything contained in them was necessarily part of the movement prior to the composition of the gospels. It could be that Paul’s teaching goes back to the historical Jesus, but he doesn’t give us any evidence that this is the case, so I think we have to acknowledge the possibility that the dependence flows in the other direction.

          • John MacDonald

            Is it coincidence that Mark, Matthew, Luke, and, independently, John, make the Agape teaching a central focus of their biographies of Jesus and attribute the saying to Jesus?

          • John MacDonald

            Your comment is a succinct expression of why the mythicist hypothesis is completely unnecessary when considering Paul’s letters. Your comment should definitely be made into a meme. I would add that the centrality of the apocalyptic teaching also stands at the forefront of the message of the Jesus of the gospels and Paul’s message.

          • John MacDonald

            So, it would seem that Jesus was an apocalyptic teacher for whom it was important for people to get right with God by Loving (agape) God and one another because the end of the age was imminent, and this message of Love became even more urgent following Jesus’ death and the reported resurrection appearances (compare Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14;  with Mark 12:28-31) because the appearances were interpreted in the light of Jesus’ apocalyptic teachings/warnings and so were taken as evidence that the first stage (Jesus as first fruits) of the end times had begun. In Paul’s time, it was urgent that people got right with God and Love one another RIGHT AWAY. Time was running out. As I said, there was really no reason for Cephas et al to interpret a ghost sighting of Jesus apocalyptically, but it makes sense that Cephas and the gang did interpret such a ghost sighting apocalyptically if Jesus had been going around teaching the end of the age was at hand.

          • Gary

            FYI, since you have Ehrman’s latest book, pg 61:
            “The entire letter to the Galatians is predicated on the fact that the readers are gentile Christians being told by false teachers to begin practicing the ways of Judaism. These are all churches filled with pagan converts.”

          • Gary

            I thought, for a second, of providing you a clip of the 60’s song, “Paul and Paula”, but I figured no one would get it.

          • John MacDonald

            My dad played the oldies on the radio continuously when I was growing up. I would have gotten it. lol

          • Gary

            I think Paul and Paula are participating in the bridal chamber ceremony.

          • Your logic seems to be this:

            (1) Under the traditional historical model, there appear to be two phases; (2) Two phases are inconsistent with the mythicist alternative to the traditional historical model; (3) Therefore, the traditional historical model is superior.

            That seems a bit circular to me.

          • John MacDonald

            I think the view portrayed by the gospels is that during Jesus’ lifetime there was no mission to the non-Jews, and then something about Jesus’ resurrection inspired that mission outside Jewish circles. If the gospels are just Euhemerizing myths, what would be the point of portraying those two seperate phases?

          • I would conclude from Paul’s epistles that the movement was originally a Jewish one that was eventually extended to the Gentiles. Ergo, the expansion of the mission to include Gentiles was already part of the movement’s tradition when the gospels were written. I think that it would be perfectly natural for the gospel writers–whether they were euhemerizing or not–to make the resurrection the fulcrum for that expansion. It seems equally plausible to me, based on the limited evidence available, that the movement remained a Jewish one until Paul came along and that he was the driving force behind extending it to the Gentiles.

          • You seem to believe that the task of historical reconstruction involves speculating about what evidence we do not have, and allowing that to stand in the way of drawing the best conclusions available given the evidence that we do have.

          • I believe that one of the historian’s responsibilities is to honestly acknowledge sources of uncertainty and to qualify his or her conclusions accordingly. I don’t believe that constitutes “speculation.” I realize that this makes historical reconstruction more challenging, but we all have our burdens to bear.

          • Obviously, but I was not talking about the fact that historians temper their conclusions in this way (even if sound bites sometimes give a different impression to some members of the public who are not well read on history). I was talking about your willingness to say that we should not follow the evidence where all of it points to, because we can never know that there was not other evidence now lost to us that said something different.

          • Then you were talking about something that I have never said. I have been addressing situations where mainstream NT scholars express high degrees of confidence based on small amounts of evidence.

          • John MacDonald

            Regarding the “Swoon Theory,” there is a strain in Price’s analysis that doesn’t have to do with mythicism, but rather another type of rethinking of the Gospels. He tries to argue the Swoon (Scheintod – Seeming Death) Theory, among other things, may have been hinted at in the earlier stages of the Gospels, even thought it was subsequently redacted out. First, Price points out that the desperate prayer in Gethsemane may have originally been envisioned as being granted (compare Heb. 5:7). The willingness of Jesus to die, like Isaac’s, is what answers future Israel’s sins, not the actual death. Moreover, Pilate wondering that Jesus had died so quickly perhaps was meant to suggest Jesus was not dead, but merely drugged by the odorous liquid soaked cloth that was raised to Jesus’ mouth before he passed out. Perhaps Jesus in Mark originally demonstrated his divine Sonship, not be being resurrected, but by escaping death. Maybe the mocking of Jesus by the Sanhedrenists (Mark 15:32) to come down from the cross is pure irony because Jesus would in fact do that. Mark 15: 43-46 seems to echo the account of Josepf bar-Mattias successfully (in part) petitioning Titus to take his friends down from the cross. Matthew adding the detail that Jesus was buried in a rich man’s tomb may have been originally put there as motivation for graverobbers to break into the tomb, like in Chariton’s “Chaereas and Callirhoe,” and Xenophon’s “Ephesian Tale.” The common theme would be robbers breaking into the tomb to find the revived Jesus licking his wounds. Lukes account of the corporeal appearance of the supposedly dead Jesus (providing evidence to his disciples that it was really him) seems to echo a similar scene when Apollonius asks his friends to touch him to prove that it was really him and not just a ghost. The point in the Apollonius story, as perhaps the original intent of the Luke story, was not that Apollonius had returned from the dead, but rather was never really dead in the first place. John probably had a problem with all of this and so added the details that Jesus was nailed to the cross and stabbed through the ribs, emphasizing that he had in fact died.

          • John MacDonald

            Yep. As you say, the beliefs of Socrates, as distinct from those of Plato, are difficult to discern. Little in the way of concrete evidence exists to demarcate the two. The lengthy presentation of ideas given in most of the dialogues may be the ideas of Socrates himself, but which have been subsequently deformed or changed by Plato, and some scholars think Plato so adapted the Socratic style as to make the literary character and the philosopher himself impossible to distinguish. There is controversy inherent in identifying what the beliefs of Socrates might have been, owing to the difficulty of separating Socrates from Plato and the difficulty of interpreting even the dramatic writings concerning Socrates. Consequently, distinguishing the philosophical beliefs of Socrates from those of Plato and Xenophon has not proven easy, so it must be remembered that what is attributed to Socrates might actually be more the specific concerns of these two thinkers instead.

          • John MacDonald

            For instance, it has traditionally been thought the early dialogues represent the historical Socrates, while the middle to later dialogues represents Plato. But the problem with this model is that all we can really say is that the early dialogues may simply represent an early stage of Plato’s thought that he subsequently outgrew, and so there is no reason to think any of it actually goes back to the historical Socrates. Or, Plato in the early dialogues may simply be invoking a literary mimesis of the historical Socrates to show that the Socrates he was presenting was greater than the original historical Socrates, like the way Matthew presents Jesus as the new and greater Moses. In any case, it is pointless to try and discern what the historical Socrates said/believed about piety or justice or whatever because any such hermeneutic suggestions ignore the problem that, whatever the historical Socrates thought and taught, Socrates will, for us, forever be merely a mouthpiece for Plato’s/Xenophon’s thoughts.

          • Jim

            I think that’s a reasonable presumption. At the time of Paul’s persecution days (assuming he is speaking truthfully), Christians (weren’t even called that at that time) would have been quite a very small and unorganized group. I would think that if anyone persecuted them, it could be related to something they were saying as that might be the only way to pick them out in a crowd. I also wonder if Paul was just a one-man committee who personally decided to persecute Jesus followers because they had stepped on his Jewish toes somehow?

          • John MacDonald

            Vinny made the argument that Paul could have been persecuting the first members of the Jesus movement for cannibalism, or infanticide, or practically any reason they wanted to invent. I don’t think Paul was persecuting the Jesus movement for cannibalism or infanticide or something any run-of-the-mill Jew would want to stamp the Jesus movement out for, but rather, as I said above, Paul said it was precisely because he was so zealous for the traditions of his fathers that he decided to persecute the members of the early Jesus movement for disrespecting those traditions. Proclaiming a crucified criminal as being the Messiah who God raised from the dead as the catalyst for the beginning of the general resurrection of souls at the end of days seems to be a good candidate for an explanation for Paul’s persecution.

          • John MacDonald

            One other thought. Ehrman actually provides a good quote about this. Ehrman writes:

            And who was Jesus? He was a crucified criminal. An insignificant and relatively unknown apocalyptic preacher from a rural part of the northern hinterlands, who made a solitary pilgrimage to Jerusalem with a handful of followers, who ended up on the wrong side of the law and was unceremoniously tried, convicted and tortured to death on criminal charges. That’s the messiah? That’s just the opposite of the messiah.

            There are good reasons for thinking that some of Jesus’ followers (it is impossible to say how many there were, but given the demographics of rural Galilee we’re not talking thousands, or even hundreds) thought that maybe he would be the messiah. Those hopes were forcefully and convincingly dashed by his execution. But for reasons we do not need to explore here, some of them came to think that after his death a great miracle had occurred and God had brought Jesus back to life and exalted him up to heaven. This belief reconfirmed the earlier expectation: Jesus is the one favored of God! He is the anointed one! He is the messiah!

            This reconfirmation of a hope that had been forcefully disconfirmed compelled these earliest followers of Jesus to make sense of it all through their ultimate source of all religious truth, the sacred scriptural traditions. They found passages that spoke of someone (a righteous person or the nation of Israel as a whole) suffering, but then being vindicated by God. These included passages such as Isaiah 53 quoted above. These followers of Jesus claimed these passages actually referred to the future messiah. They were predictions of Jesus.

            This was for them “good news.” Jesus was the messiah, but not one anyone expected. By raising him from the dead, God showed that Jesus’ death had brought about a much greater salvation than anyone had anticipated. Jesus came to save God’s people not from their oppression by a foreign power, but to save them for eternal life. This is what the earliest Christians must have proclaimed.

            And for the zealous Pharisee Paul, it was utter nonsense. It was worse than nonsense. It was a horrific and dangerous blasphemy against God, his scriptures, and the law itself. This scandalous preaching had to be stopped. And Paul did his best to stop it.

          • Gary

            That’s rather interesting. I agree that at Paul’s conversion, the number of Jesus followers were small.
            I remember John MacDonald saying “why did Jesus seem to think a 3 year mentoring process was necessary for Paul?”

            So, maybe there was a connection with Paul and Essenes.

            Essenes from wiki,
            “After a total of three years’ probation, newly joining members would take an oath that included the commitment to practice piety towards God (το θειον) and righteousness towards humanity, to maintain a pure lifestyle, to abstain from criminal and immoral activities, to transmit their rules uncorrupted and to preserve the books of the Essenes and the names of the Angels.

            Conjecture, but maybe Paul had Essenes’ leanings. Persecuted Christians because the Christians claimed their Jesus as Messiah, which conflicted with the Essenes’ the Teacher of Righteousness.
            As he persecuted Christians, he learned from them Christian practices of Baptism/ritual washing, apocalyptic beliefs, ascetic leanings, communal communities. Maybe Paul thought, “Man, this isn’t too bad. Maybe I’ll join up! I’ll do a 3 year apprenticeship and go for it.” Just got to deal with this James guy.

          • Jim

            Sure would have been nice if more Essene written material would have survived.

  • Jeff

    Yes, but it’s important to keep in mind that Carrier’s book was peer-reviewed. Also, did I mention that Carrier’s book was peer-reviewed?

  • Thank you for bringing this up and for all the references. I do believe that Jesus existed, but for me, if it was proven that Jesus never existed, it doesn’t really matter, because the STORY is still true. Even fairy tales contain truths. Even in Cinderella, the one that was diligent, honest and loving in spite of all the meanness and persecution she suffered, ends up marrying the Prince (i wonder who that is). There was no tortoise or hare in a race but it’s still true that no matter how fast you are, if you get overconfident and waste time, someone slower will pass you up and win. Those are just small examples and they both go beyond.

    I think that Jesus is “divine” because he contains, literally embodies, the logos/Word/message/truth of God, he is the EXPRESSION of God in physical (or even story) form. We can be resurrected from our spiritual death if we believe IN his message, that God is love, that IT has forgiven all our “miss the marks”/sins/flaws/mis-takes/mis-deeds/mis-beliefs (this Word existed in the beginning with God and IS God, because he MADE US THIS WAY), that loving even our enemies, emptying our selves and focusing on eternal rather than temporal things will result in a “forever kind of life” and if we all do that, it will lead to the “kingdom of heaven” (in modern terms the “highest state”). Etc.

    Jesus is the cup that contains the divine coffee. Without him the truths still exist, but they are spilled on the ground, or growing in beans on branches (how’s that for symbolism? – also please forgive me if i already wrote this on another of your comment sections as i don’t really keep track). IF Jesus didn’t physically exist i don’t think that changes those or any divine truths. (Needless to say i don’t believe substitutionary atonement is necessary as a physical act, but it embodies the full truth.)

    I KNOW God, i MET God when reading Psalm 139, i know that God KNOWS me. Yes that started with a “feeling” (more of a “wow he’s in my head!”) but it has been overwhelmingly reinforced many times. I didn’t even need the New Testament for this, but it happened in a Christian church so Jesus was the root of the situation and message in my case. If Jesus didn’t exist it doesn’t change that truth, in my humble opinion. 🙂

  • Many interesting comments, theories, info and references in this comment section!

  • Matt Cavanaugh

    What part of history was Jerry Coyne ‘denying’ when he wrote about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre?

    • I wasn’t merely referring to the way he fails to even discuss the relevant historical evidence regarding that location. I had in mind this statement in particular, which characterizes all his posts on anything to do with the historical Jesus:

      “But as we all know, and which Biblical scholars are loath to admit, there is no evidence for the existence of a Jesus person outside of Scripture—and if he existed, there should be. I’d love for National Geographic to publish a scrupulously honest article: “Jesus: Did he really exist?” Imagine how subscriptions would drop!”

      • Mark

        The idea of eliminating textual evidence on the ground that completely different people, centuries after it was written, happened to ‘canonize’ it is a really breath-taking epistemological fail.

        • Matt Cavanaugh

          A few pieces of textual evidence point to the existence of christians. The textual evidence for an historical Jesus is both exceedingly sparse and suspect.

          • Mark

            It is completely anachronistic to speak of ‘Christians’ before the second century – so, no, many of the canonized documents that seem to believers (and you) to point to the existence of Christians don’t point to the existence of Christians.

            The authentic letters of Paul are internal documents of a standard-issue Jewish messianic movement with a Gentile auxiliary (such as others have had). Like any Jewish messianic movement this one has a messianic figure – in this case, ‘Jesus’, who had been crucified.

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            I specifically had in mind the letter of Pliny the Younger.

          • Mark

            Right then you are making the mistake I was criticizing, of deleting works – like the letters of Paul – that were /later/ canonized by members of a religion that did not exist when they were written – on the ground that they were canonized by those other people. You might as well delete all evidence the Hebrew scripute might contain on grounds that the imperial Christian church canonized them to.

      • Matt Cavanaugh

        That National Geocatholic article disingenuously presents the sepulchre as archeological evidence for an historical Jesus. It dates, of course, to IIRC the 4th or 5th century AD, and thus is worthless in that regard.

        An article on tangible evidence would consist of the word: ‘none.’

        • Why seem to recall when it comes to a matter about which information is readily available? Is that supposed to be the date of the church, or the tomb that it was built on the site of?

          Here is something I wrote several years ago on this topic that might serve as a useful starting point in looking into this subject further: http://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/burjes358023.shtml

  • Illithid

    I have heard the claim made that there is no evidence of the existence of the town of Nazareth at the time of Jesus’s purported birth. Would anyone knowledgeable on the subject care to address that?

    BTW, while I am an atheist, I’ve no particular problem with the idea that there was a real person named Jesus who inspired the Gospels.

    • That view is largely championed by Rene Salm, a musician who has decided to set himself up as an armchair authority on archaeology. Searching for his name on this blog should get you started, and then please do feel free to ask follow-up questions!

      Hope this helps…

      • Matt Cavanaugh

        Salm did not “set himself up as an armchair authority on archaeology”. He conducted a critical review of the work and findings of the archeologists — and other untrained persons — who conducted digs at Nazareth. Their words and reports speak for themselves.

        • A person without relevant expertise conducting a so-called “critical review” of the findings of scholars of history, archaeology, biology, physics or any other field, and declaring their insight to be of greater value than the scholarly consensus, is precisely what it means to set oneself up as an armchair authority. What makes him different than the conservative Christians who reinterpret the evidence that problematizes the historicity of Joshua’s conquest of Jericho or Ai, other than that you like the views of one but not the other?

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            Sometimes out of the mouths of babes comes strength. You commit a genetic fallacy by rejecting Salm’s findings out-of-hand. What specifically did he get wrong that the unbiased Father Bagatti got right?

          • Not at all. And why focus on Bagatti the way evolution deniers focus on Darwin? This is about a field of academic work and not about individuals. The issue is that Salm is not engaged in archaeology and yet seeks to find ways of reinterpreting the evidence from a distance so as to conform to his predetermined preference. Like evolution deniers, he quote mines authorities while insisting that all of their interpretations are wrong.

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            Again, what exactly in your opinion did Salm get wrong?

          • This has already been discussed here some years ago: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/religionprof/2013/06/nazareth-in-the-first-century.html

            Kindly get caught up on the current state of the field, and then if you are still inclined to do so, please explain why you trust someone from outside the field of archaeology more not only than those who habe undertaken excavations, but also the professional historians and scholars who have critically analyzed their findings. Again, my concern is not with individuals or even whether they are professionals, but the strident disregard for the overwhelming consensus of experts in denialist fashion.

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            I’ll review that link to your earlier post. My understanding is that Patheos blogs are intended to be popular blogs. If you wish comments at yours to only come from fellow ‘professionals’, then please say so.

            I am but an interested lay person; it’s not my job to “catch up” by scouring the past five years of posts. I approach these questions in good faith, and would expect the ‘experts’ to gladly and politely disabuse me of any misconceptions they believe I hold, even at the expense of tediously repeating what has been explained before to others. It’s the approach I take when fielding questions in my area of expertise — wouldn’t chide you for not having read True Horsemanship Through Feel.

            Instead, I regularly come up against a decided testiness, accompanied by ad hominem (e.g., ‘denialist’) and argumentum ad populum>. Whenever any orthodoxy engages in such reactive defensiveness, my suspicion is raised.

            I wonder if this is not a product of the lunch-vs.-life dynamic found in prey-predator encounters. Whereas the existence of a 1st C. Nazareth does not negate the mythicist position, the absence of that town severely undermines the historical credibility of the first and third evangelists, who must therefore have misunderstood the moniker “the Nazarene” and then made stuff up.

          • I don’t expect those who comment to be professionals in my field – what gave you that idea? But especially since you have commented here before, it seemed appropriate to direct you to the prior discussion of this topic rather than trying to type it all up here again needlessly. I hope you would agree that, especially at the end of the semester, expecting a professor to rewrite things they have written previously for any individual who happens to ask is unreasonable.

            On your last point, I think you have things the other way around. If Jesus turned out not to have been from Nazareth, that would not mean he wasn’t a historical figure, just that perhaps a term such as Nazoraios had been misunderstood as the movement around him moved from one linguistic environment to another. This may be of interest on that subject: https://works.bepress.com/jamesmcgrath/58/

            The fact that the Gospels embed historically accurate information is certainly not irrelevant to the case for historicity, while the fact that they botch details simply places them in the same category as all other sources that historians draw upon.

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            ‘Not being an archaeologist myself, I am often asked: “How can you date evidence, Mr. Salm?” or: “How can you presume to correct professional archaeologists?” or: “How can you have any opinion on these matters?” However, there is a misunderstanding inherent in these questions, for I have never dated anything at all. I have simply identified the relevant archaeological experts and quoted their published datings: Hans-Peter Kuhnen on kokhim tombs, Varda Sussman on bow-spouted oil lamps, Roland Deines on Jewish stone vessels, Amos Kloner on circular blocking stones, and so on. The case regarding Nazareth does not rest on my opinion at all.’

            — René Salm, The Archaeology of Nazareth: A History of Pious Fraud?, 2012

          • Like Creationists and other biased armchair critics, what he actually does is cherry picks elements that fit his strange thesis and finds ways to redate or dismiss the bits that don’t fit it at all. And when that fails, he insinuates incompetence and fraud, to a degree of dizzying silliness. And yes, I can give you examples of all of the above.

            The idea that the biased armchair nobody with no training is somehow going to be a superior analyst than all the experts in the field is total crackpot stuff.

          • Matt Cavanaugh

            I would be eager to review those examples of which you speak. Is there someplace I can find them?

            Still, I don’t think it takes a trained archeologist to observe, as Salm does, that digging a hole in the ground, then sifting through the resulting pile of dirt in reverse order to date the artifacts therein, constitutes atrocious methodology.

          • I intend to write up a couple of detailed critiques of Salm’s armchair nitpicking for my blog one of these days, but until then you can find some analysis of just some of the flaws in Salm’s disingenuous analysis here. The subsequent discussion may also be of interest, especially when the notorious defender of crank Jesus theories, Neil Godfrey, turns up and does a spectacularly bad job of defending Salm before flouncing off.

            “I don’t think it takes a trained archeologist to observe, as Salm does, that digging a hole in the ground, then sifting through the resulting pile of dirt in reverse order to date the artifacts therein, constitutes atrocious methodology.”

            What are you talking about? And I would warn you against relying on Salm’s account of anyone doing anything – he is not an honest guide.

      • Illithid

        Thank you. I’ve now read your post on the subject from 2012, the PDF of Salm’s talk about his book, and some blog entries by Ehrman. Going farther seems to lead into realms of numismatics and details of oil lamp construction which I’ve neither the expertise nor patience to explore. Guess I’ll just have to provisionally rely on professional consensus.

        I’m sure there was some reason I didn’t dig that all up without help. Laziness, probably. Yup, pretty sure that’s it.

  • Matt Cavanaugh

    It gets kinda confusing keeping track of all these James’ and assorted brothers of Jesus. First we have Jesus’ constant companions, the disciples Simon-Peter and the brothers James & john (Mark 5:37). Then come Jesus’ blood brothers James, Joses, Judas, & Simon (Mark 6:3). Then in Galatians, Paul squabbles with the “so-called pillars”, a James, a Cephas (Simon-Peter again?), and another John.

    Just how many James’, John’s, and Rocky’s are we talking about here, and which ones are Jesus blood brothers?

  • Pseudonym

    I had a bit of a shock there when I saw the name “Mike Duncan”. I thought “surely not the history podcaster and author of The Storm Before the Storm“! Good to know it’s a different Mike Duncan.

  • Grimlock

    This seems like a reasonably suitable place to ask, so here goes.

    Any thoughts about the idea that the James mentioned in Josephus is the brother of the high priest Jesus, and that the “Christ” part is a later interpolation?

    I’ve seen this mentioned as a plausible view by at least one non-mythicist.

    On a related note, I believe that I have previously identified myself on this blog as having an inclination towards a mythicist view. This is no longer the case, though I certainly am highly skeptical of what can be said of the historical Jesus.

    • It’s a great question. I haven’t seen a case for the conclusion that didn’t seem to be driven by an effort to make the reference disappear, but it was a common name. The question I keep coming back to is why anyone would have turned this James into James the brother of Jesus of Nazareth in that way. Inserting a reference to Jesus himself one can understand, and radically altering a neutral or negative reference to him all the more so. But why insert “called Christ” here? I’ve yet to see a rationale proposed that seems compelling.

      Let me also say that I’m delighted to hear about your shift of stance. Skepticism about what we can say with any degree of confidence about Jesus is absolutely appropriate – it is pushing that further to the point of claiming that his non-historicity is more probable than his historicity that is problematic!

      • Grimlock

        Thank you for your response!

    • “Any thoughts about the idea that the James mentioned in Josephus is the brother of the high priest Jesus, and that the “Christ” part is a later interpolation?”

      I deal with that argument in detail in the second half of my article,“Jesus Mythicism 2: ‘James, the Brother of the Lord'”. Scroll down to “Josephus on James” for the analysis of Josephus’ reference to James. In brief, all attempts to make this argument fail because it runs completely counter to the very consistent way Josephus uses identifiers and, in particular, how he introduces new actors to his narrative. The argument simply does not work.

    • Mark

      It has also been suggested, apart from ‘mythicist’ manias, that the John the Baptist passage is an interpolation e.g. lately Rivka Nir “Josephus’ Account of John the Baptist: A Christian Interpolation?” goo.gl/BB6q8G . She argues that it is a (fairly early) ‘Jewish Christian’ interpolation with the polemical purpose of opposing developing orthodox Christian views of ‘baptism’. If I remember, the argument seemed to suffer from the defect of over-rating what the rabbinical literature can tell us about the early 1st c.

  • John MacDonald

    I just finished reading Vincent Czyz’s recent mythicist historical thriller “The Christos Mosaic.” See https://www.amazon.com/Christos-Mosaic-Vincent-Czyz/dp/1943075042/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1525789479&sr=8-1&keywords=the+christos+mosaic . It’s a number 1 bestseller on Amazon.

    I enjoyed Czyz’s book “The Christos Mosaic.” very much. I was pleasantly surprised to see a reference by Czyz to “The Bacchae” where Czyz quotes Cadmus as saying “Even if this Dionysus is no God, as you assert, persuade yourself that he is. The fiction is a noble one (The Christos Mosaic, 467).” I also liked in when Czyz wrote: “You gotta hand it to Mark – the greatest con job in history (The Christos Mosaic, 491).”

    In reading, I was reminded of my mythicist leanings I used to have when I published (2009) my online short story dealing with these issues “The Eternal Return” here: http://www.caseagainstfaith.com/the-eternal-return.html , as well as my article on “The Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins” which Carrier said on Twitter was a well researched article on “The Noble Lie Theory of Christian Origins,” here: http://palpatinesway.blogspot.ca/2018/03/examining-easter-peering-behind-veil-of.html

  • John MacDonald

    I like this quote from Paula Fredriksen’s new book:

    “Paul does indeed have a high Christology. His Jesus existed in a god-form before appearing in human likeness (Phil 2.5); he is the cosmic agent ‘through whom are all things and through whom we are’ (1 Cor 8.6). But even though Jesus is ‘from heaven,’ Paul nevertheless unambiguously identifies this heavenly Jesus as anthropos, ‘human’ (1 Cor 15.48).” Fredriksen, Paul: The Pagan’s Apostle, 144

    • John MacDonald

      That’s actually a typo in Dr. Fredriksen’s book. The reference should be to 1 Cor 15.47

  • John MacDonald

    The best argument I can think of for mythicism is that Paul says the Rulers of this Age (Which could be interpreted to mean Supernatural powers = The demons to whom pagans sacrifice) crucified Jesus (1 Cor 2.8, also see 1 Cor 8.5-6; 2Cor 4.4), and that these are the powers the returning Christ will subjugate (Rom 8.38, also cf Eph 6.12). Phillipians says these are the powers who will bend knees before Christ. But this possible evidence for mythicism is negated because Paul calls Jesus an “anthropos (human),” and says that Jesus was “made” from the seed of David. I think Carrier’s “cosmic sperm bank” proposal to “explain away” this evidence fails Occam’s Razor, since scripture speaks of conception as being “formed/made” by God (Isaiah 44:24; Jeremiah 1:5 ), and so seems to indicate conception in the usual way. Surely if Paul had in mind something as unusual and unprecedented as Carrier’s cosmic sperm bank hypothesis, Paul would have mentioned it.

    • John MacDonald

      Of course, if Paul is saying the gods of this world crucified Christ, this probably means the Romans were “under the influence of Satan,” and hence crucified Christ. In this regard, Paul writes: “4The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4).”

      • John MacDonald

        So, 2 Corinthians 4:4 suggests Paul thought Satan was influencing people’s minds. As I said, this might be what Paul means when he says the rulers of this age crucified Christ – if we are to think such language is meant to refer to demonic powers: Satan influenced the Romans to crucify Christ.

        • Gary

          “So, 2 Corinthians 4:4 suggests Paul thought Satan was influencing people’s minds.”…

          Perhaps. This then suggests Paul had a Jewish change of mind regarding Satan, since Jews tended to not see Satan as a player. Christians did.

          Or, Paul was an Essene.
          Or, Paul was a Gnostic.
          Or, Paul thought the gods of this world were simply Roman leaders?
          Or, Paul though Satan was simply a Jewish angel making sure the resurrection plan was carried out (per God’s instructions)? And not really a bad guy.

          Remembering that the NT wasn’t written yet,

          “The Origin of Satan”, Elaine Pagels:

          “Rereading biblical and extra-biblical accounts of angels, I learned first of all what many scholars have pointed out: that while angels often appear in the Hebrew Bible, Satan, along with other fallen angels or demonic beings, is virtually absent. But among certain first-century Jewish groups, prominently including the Essenes (who saw themselves as allied with angels) and the followers of Jesus, the figure variously called Satan, Beelzebub, or Belial also began to take on central importance.”

          • John MacDonald

            Hey Gary! Carrier’s argument is that Paul says Christ was crucified by the “Rulers of this Age (1 Cor 2:8),” which for Carrier means Satan and his demons, and so Christ was a mythical being. My point was that even if we concede in Paul “rulers of this age” meant demons, and not the Romans, all the passage may mean is Satanic mind control of the Romans, as per 2 Corinthians 4:4.

          • Gary

            I agree.
            I think Carrier is a victim of reading later letters, not really written by Paul, to inject Satan into the mix. But there are a variety of twists and turns, none of which has anything to do with a mythical Jesus.

            Again, from Pagels’ book,

            “According to Luke’s account in Acts, Paul regarded Roman magistrates as his protectors against Jewish hostility; and Paul himself, writing to Christians in Rome, orders them to “obey the higher powers; for there is no authority except from God, and the powers that exist are instituted by God,” even in their God-given right to “bear the sword” and “execute God’s wrath” (Rom. 13:1).”

            “But Paul himself was executed, probably by order of a Roman magistrate;”

            “One follower of Paul, aware of the circumstances of his teacher’s death and of the various dangers Christians faced, warned in a letter attributed to Paul, called the Letter to the Ephesians, that Christians are not contending against mere human beings:
            Our contest is not against flesh and blood [human beings] but against powers, against principalities, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places (6:12).
            This Pauline author articulates the sense of spiritual warfare experienced by many Christians, especially by those who face persecution.”

          • John MacDonald

            Hey Gary. I just did some research about whether Paul’s use of the phrase “Rulers of this Age” meant gods/demons, or Romans (like Caesar and Pilate), and this is what I found: Bartholomew says

            The term is used for both good and evil angels in greek versions of 2nd Temple apocalyptic texts (e.g. Daniel, 1Enoch) where angelic beings have dominion over earthly empires. David Aune writes: “The term archontes used as a designation for angelic beings first occurs in the LXX of Daniel 10:13 and and seven times in Theod. Daniel 10:13, 20-21; 12:1 … Dan. 10:10-21 contains the first references to the conception of angelic beings who are the patrons of specific nations on earth.” The plural form rulers τῶν ἀρχόντων is used of angelic beings in Daniel LXX-OldGreek and Theodotion. One will notice that στρατηγὸς “commander” is used interchangeably with ἄρχων in Dan. 10:13 LXX-OG whereas Daniel Theod. consistently uses ἄρχων to render שׂר Sar “prince, cheif.” This undermines the notion that ἄρχων has sort of technical or restricted semantic significance. NASB 1970 Dan. 10:13 “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia.” In the relevant portion of the text one of the chief princes NASB 1970 is tolerably close to the text of LXX-OG and Theodotion. In this context Michael is one among others referred to as εἷς τῶν ἀρχόντων τῶν πρώτων one of the chief princes all of whom are certainly not human rulers. [That said,]1 Cor. 2:6-8 doesn’t bode well for an exclusively spiritual (angelic/demonic) referent for: τῶν ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος “the rulers of this age.” First of all, the language seems to support the view that “the rulers of this age” were human agents in crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Paul says that “the rulers of this age” are “passing away” which appears to situate the scenario within an historical space and time framework. Perhaps this is another reason to question an exclusively spiritual referent for: τῶν ἀρχόντων τοῦ αἰῶνος “the rulers of this age.” This isn’t an air tight argument, since in the apocalyptic literature both the “spiritual authorities/rulers” and their earthy representatives will be overthrown at consummation of history. While it seems improbable that “the rulers of this age” has a primary or exclusive reference to spiritual beings, this doesn’t rule out a composite view where the earthly representatives of the “spiritual authorities/rulers” are primary but understood as acting on behalf of supernatural beings who are depicted in apocalyptic literature as the real powers behind their human agents. While human agents might have crucified Jesus Christ because of some sort of blindness, their spiritual rulers knew exactly what they were doing. Again, one could argue that this is missing Paul’s point; that according to Paul, the blindness behind the crucifixion was something shared by both the spiritual rulers and their human agents.

            So, this seems to agree with my “Satanic Mind Control” hypothesis.

          • Gary

            “Paul says that “the rulers of this age” are “passing away” which appears to situate the scenario within an historical space and time framework.”…
            Would imply to me another item in Pagels’ book. “Rulers of the Age” could easily be Pagan Gods. The mission of Paul to convert Gentiles, just as Ehrman implies in his new book, means every Christian convert, means one less Pagan God follower. So, “Rulers of the Age” passing away, implies Pagan Gods disappearing (not that they exist, just that their followers are disappearing).
            So Paul’s statement might just mean Jesus was crucified by people that follow Pagan Gods. Not that the Romans were following evil demons. Write it off to ignorance!

          • Gary

            Not satanic mind control.

          • John MacDonald

            I wonder if Paul thought the Romans were unwittingly influenced by gods and so crucified Jesus, like the god Ares in Wonder Woman whispering in people’s ears to awaken their basest warlike instincts? See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HXFIqUGpFdI

          • Gary

            I don’t believe Paul as a Jew or Christian, thought Pagan Gods really existed. Although, if faced with Wonder Woman, I think he might have changed his mind. After all, she was a previous member of IDF!

          • John MacDonald

            But Paul did think Satan existed, and so Paul could have thought Satan was influencing (whispering in the ears of) the Romans to crucify Christ, similar to 2 Corinthians 4:4 (like the way the god Ares was influencing the Germans in the Wonder Woman clip I provided).

          • Gary

            Ares was pagan. If Paul thought Satan was whispering in the Roman’s ears, then he would have thought God initiated it, if he was following Job’s model. I think not.
            “The book of Job, too, describes the satan as a supernatural messenger, a member of God’s royal court. But while Balaam’s satan protects him from harm, Job’s satan takes a more adversarial role. Here the Lord himself admits that the satan incited him to act against Job (2:3). The story begins when the satan appears as an angel, a “son of God” (ben ‘elohim), a term that, in Hebrew idiom, often means “one of the divine beings.” Here this angel, the satan, comes with the rest of the heavenly host on the day appointed for them to “present themselves before the Lord.” When the Lord asks whence he comes, the satan answers, “From roaming on the earth, and walking up and down on it.” Here the storyteller plays on the similarity between the sound of the Hebrew satan and shut, the Hebrew word “to roam,” suggesting that the satan s special role in the heavenly court is that of a kind of roving intelligence agent, like those whom many Jews of the time would have known—and detested—from the king of Persia’s elaborate system of secret police and intelligence officers. Known as “the king’s eye” or “the king’s ear,” these agents roamed the empire looking for signs of disloyalty among the people.

            Here the satan terrifies and harms a person but, like the angel of death, remains an angel, a member of the heavenly court, God’s obedient servant.”

          • John MacDonald

            Satan’s a “But for” kind if guy:
            – But for the influence of Satan, Eve wouldn’t have eaten the fruit.
            – But for the influence of Satan (“You incited me”), God wouldn’t have moved against Job.
            – But for the influence of Satan, unbelievers would have been coming more readily to Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4).

          • Gary

            – But for the influence of false pagan gods, unbelievers would have been coming more readily to Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4).

          • John MacDonald

            Gary said: “But for the influence of false pagan gods”

            – What in the world are you talking about, lol ? ὁ θεὸς in 2 Corinthians 4:4 isn’t plural. Paul is referencing Satan.

          • Gary

            Sorry about that. Was thinking of Rulers of this Age. I’d say it’s just as likely referring to a demiurge. Or, as the original thought began, Paul left his Jewish roots and developed the Christian idea of Satan by this time. But I doubt it. But I’d say no one really knows except Paul.

          • John MacDonald

            It could be that the individual struggle against Satanic persuasion in Paul ( 2 Corinthians 4:4) developed into the struggle of Jesus against Satanic persuasion in the Gospels (Luke 4:6, Matthew 4:8-9). Paul’s ideas could have been just floating around out there and got picked up on and embellished by the Gospel writers.

          • Gary

            Beats me. Just don’t see Paul referring to Satan as God, when his Jewish roots tell him he’s an angel – bad or good. By the time the Gospels were written, Satan was the Christian Satan, not the Jewish Satan. Also can’t see Romans as agents of Satan at the time Paul was alive (Paul’s buddies, protectors, source of Gentiles – at least till he got whacked by them).

          • John MacDonald

            Just as Paul changed his mind about the Christians at his conversion to start seeing them positively, so too could Paul have changed his mind about the Romans (who crucified Jesus) and started seeing them negatively. In fact, it would make sense that Paul still had some sympathies toward the Romans, and so emphasized they were led astray by Satan, not they were rather Evil all on their own.

          • John MacDonald

            Whoever this dark god is, he is clearly a Dark Lord of the Sith, as he has the ability to cloud people’s minds. As Yoda says, “The dark side clouds everything.”

          • Gary

            Pagels’ same book ,
            “Paul, writing about twenty years before the evangelists, holds a still more traditionally Jewish perception that Satan acts as God’s agent not to corrupt people but to test them; at one point he suggests that a Christian group “deliver to Satan” one of its errant members, not in order to consign him to hell, but in the hope that he will repent and change (1 Cor. 5:5).”

            Might want to reconcile that with 2 Cor 4:4!

            It’s a mystery!

          • John MacDonald

            Contra mythicism, interpreting “Rulers of this Age” as demons does not imply a celestial Jesus. 1 Cor 2:6-8 may bear witness to the belief that the real rulers of earth are demonic. If you assume that the “rulers” in this verse are demonic powers, it does not follow that they are ruling a demonic empire outside earth, but rather that they are behind the rule of earthly powers. This conforms to the views of apocalyptic Judaism, in which Satan and the demonic powers temporarily are acting on this world in a warlike situation, for some time, until God and the good powers again have the upper hand.

          • John MacDonald

            Gary said: “Paul had a Jewish change of mind regarding Satan, since Jews tended to not see Satan as a player. Christians did.”

            – I always saw Satan as a bit of an instigator in the Jewish Scriptures. He persuaded Eve to eat the apple, after all. And he incited God to move against Job, something God wouldn’t have done without Satan’s prodding: “you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause. (Job 2:3)”

  • John MacDonald

    Carrier makes a big deal out of Paul’s wording that Jesus was “made” out of the seed of David, not “born,” the same wording Paul uses for how Adam was formed. In response to that, I would say being “made” or “formed” simply indicates how the ancient Jews thought of conception. We see this understanding of “making” or “forming” in, for instance, Jeremiah 1:5, and Isaiah 49:5. And this agrees with Paul’s interpretation. Paul says “But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21Does not the potter have the right to make from the same lump of clay one vessel for special occasions and another for common use?… (Romans 9: 20-21).”

  • John MacDonald

    Just a heads up: Dr. Richard Carrier vs Dr. Dennis MacDonald live will be Wednesday May 30th, 2:30 pm PST on the Pinecreek YT channel, discussing “Did Jesus Exist?”. They are currently taking questions for Carrier and MacDonald. The debate will be broadcast live here: https://www.youtube.com/pinecreekdoug

    • Thanks for pointing this out!

      • John MacDonald

        No problem. It should be interesting. They tried to have the debate a few days ago but Dr. Dennis MacDonald kept having technical difficulties.